2011-04-01 / Top Stories

Gateway Priorities Chill Fort Tilden Users

Calls For ‘Limited Organized Recreation’


The Rockaway Little League is one of the major users of the park, but some Gateway officials have said that ballparks are not a proper amenity for a national park. That is reflected, many believe, in the alternative concepts, which say that organized recreation should be reduced in the park. The Rockaway Little League is one of the major users of the park, but some Gateway officials have said that ballparks are not a proper amenity for a national park. That is reflected, many believe, in the alternative concepts, which say that organized recreation should be reduced in the park. By Howard Schwach

The headline on a recent newsletter distributed by officials at Gateway National Recreation Area says that it seeks to “Find Common Ground and Navigate New Waters.”

In the newsletter’s 12 pages, however, which detail the National Park Service’s priorities for the next 20 years, there is a common thread that seems to exclude the local Rockaway groups that now use Fort Tilden as their home base – groups such as the CYO, the Rockaway Little League, the Rockaway Artists Alliance, the Rockaway Theatre Company and the Rockaway Music and Arts Council.

And, while park officials say unofficially that they don’t want to see the end of a relationship between the park and local recreational and arts groups, the report makes clear in its preliminary alternative concepts that planners have little desire to see those groups in the park.

The three recommended concepts have one thing in common.

Each of them defines recreation and specifies what kind of recreation is planned for the park in the future.

Concept 1 says of planned recreation, “different recreational activities and programs are introduced and provided to promote interaction with the park’s natural and historic sites; limited organized recreation is planned.”

Concept 2 says, “Recreational activities are centered on the park’s fundamental values and promote exploration and connection to the natural world.”

Concept 3 adds, “All types of recreational activities that emphasize connections to the ocean, shorelines, bays and forts will be encouraged.”

In a section of the report called “Values,” the newsletter lists the following: “Recreation activities, including nature observation such as bird watching, contemplating the physical environment, astronomy; water-based, such as surfing, boating, fishing and swimming; walking, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding; picnicking, visiting historic sites, feelings associated with open spaces in high density areas; views of the outer harbor and ocean horizon; connections to national history; public access to ocean, bay shorelines and darkness and night sky.”

“Where do those values allow for little league, for soccer, for musical theater, for art exhibits and concerts,” asked a Rockaway resident, who asked not to be identified because she is presently negotiating with the park service, after reading the newsletter. “Where is Rockaway?”

That is the fundamental question for local residents.

A number of local groups have been in negotiation with the park service to keep their programs running.

Several have complained to The Wave that they are being priced out of the park due to high costs for things such as water and electricity, and for a new charge, a per-square foot charge for the fields that could easily force the Little League to shut down after this season.

The Rockaway Music and Arts Council was forced to end the 26-year run of its highly-successful Fall Festival last year because the fees demanded by Gateway were more than the profit the organization made on the event. In addition, its Summer Concert Picnic Series ended in 2009 for the same reason.

Even Congressman Anthony Weiner, who has funded Gateway special projects for the past several years, has a problem with the park.

“The fundamental problem is that Gateway is not like Yosemite, but the park service treats it as if it is,” Weiner said at a Rockaway meeting late last week. “It is our neighborhood park, and when our community wants to develop the park and visit the park, then they should be welcome. The park has to treat Rockaway like the first among equals.”

Weiner says he is working with the park to ensure that any new plan includes the Rockaway organizations, and that the work they have done and the money they have spent should be used as an offset against any fees or charges the park has.

Park officials, however, say that there is no intent to throw the Rockaway organizations out of the park.

“The ‘values’ in the newsletter come right from the enabling act that brought the park to reality,” says John Harlen Warren, the Director of Public Affairs for Gateway. “There are lots of things that are not on that list that we plan to preserve – for example the aviation history of Floyd Bennett Field. Even though [the Rockaway organizations] were not specifically mentioned in the report, that does not necessarily mean that they will not be in the plan. We understand their value to the park.”

“It is impossible to boil down 26,000 acres spread between two states in one report,” Warren added. That is why we do the management plan over a number of years. We don’t make decisions quickly and we take in a great amount of community input.”

Liam Strain works for the National Park Service in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as part of the Northeast Region Park Planning and Special Studies Group.

He said that specific programs like Little League and theater companies won’t be listed in the plan outlined in the newsletter.

Strain told The Wave on Monday that the priorities listed in the newsletter are part of “a broad plan,” and that “specific activities that parks have contracts for are not covered at the broadest level.”

“What we are looking at now is the specific intent of Congress in enabling the park. That is our present focus, but that will change over time. The fact that something is not listed in the present report does not mean that it will be cut from the park.”

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