Make The National Park Our National Park
Sometime this summer, the National Park Service will issue its ten-year management plan for Gateway National Recreation Area, what we all euphemistically know as “Gateway.” There will be public hearings on the plan and locals will have a chance to comment on all the social media outlets. However, the bottom line is that, in the past few years, the park has become less “our park” and more “their park.” We understand that the NPS is under financial pressures and that they can’t just throw money away, but the money issue has placed a wedge between the park and the community in which it is largely located. First, it was the Rockaway Music and Arts Council, a volunteer organization that once provided a Fall Festival and a series of free summer concerts. All those are gone, put out of business by the demand for draconian amounts of money from a nonprofit that ran on a shoestring and is now no more. Then, there was the demand to the Rockaway Little League that it pay a per-square-foot usage fee for its Fort Tilden fields. Those fees are still under negotiation and the issue is in doubt. Perhaps the management plan will clear up the issue, perhaps it will lead to a ban on all organized sports at the park. There is no way of knowing because park officials are tight-lipped on the issue of community involvement in a national park setting. The Rockaway Artists Alliance recently signed a five-year agreement, but only the two parties know what the contract contains, and they are not talking. Now, comes George Kourupis, a Belle Harbor resident who was a youth soccer coach of some note in South Africa. He wants to start a program for kids from St. Francis de Sales, but has no place to play. He asked the NPS for permission to use their unused fields for an hour or two a week and was told that it would cost him $50 an hour for the use of the fields – in a national park that we all support with our tax money. What is that about? It’s about Fort Tilden being treated the same as Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. Once we questioned an NPS official in Washington, D.C. about Fort Tilden and the little league. “Would you want a little league ball field on the rim of the Grand Canyon,” we were asked. When we pointed out that Fort Tilden and the Grand Canyon have little in common, we were told that the views of Manhattan and the Atlantic Ocean from the ball fields was magnificent, we laughed. When we told the official that all you could see from the Fort Tilden ball fields was the Marine Parkway Bridge, she said that we were wrong. The fact is, she was wrong and so are the officials who want to charge Kourupis $50 an hour for a youth soccer program for which he volunteers his own time and money. It is our national park, not those who haven’t any idea of what the park or its surrounding community is all about.