No, No Nudity
More than 150 locals rallied at Beach 149 Street and the beachfront on Sunday, demanding that a 100-year old fence separating city from federal beaches destroyed in last year’s Hurricane Irene be rebuilt immediately due to “a nude and lewd invasion” by bathers from Riis Park.
At one point, more than 100 years ago, oldtimers say, there were two fences on the site – one that separated Rockaway’s beaches from the former Neponsit Home, which then treated highly-contagious patients, and the other a few blocks west to completely block off the hospital from bathers on either side of the facility.
The western-most fence came down dozens of years ago, but the fence between what had then become part of Gateway National Recreation Area and city beaches remained until last August.
“For decades, families have felt secure in bringing their children to Rockaway’s beaches without worrying about the potential of exposing them to the adult behaviors of the adjacent beach at Riis Park,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder. “The fence has served as an effective barrier, allowing all types of beachgoers to enjoy our beautiful beaches.”
“Public beaches are for everyone, but displays of nudity and lewd behavior by some salty adult non-residents are not for everyone, especially in front of our children,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr.
“The Parks Department has decided not to replace the fence without any consideration of the homeowners in the Neponsit Community, and that is unacceptable,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich. “I strongly urge Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg to reconsider this misguided decision.”
Two weeks ago, Benepe told the Daily News that the city had a new “holistic arrangement” with Gateway and that the fence would not be replaced.
That sparked the ire of many Neponsit residents, who then contacted their elected officials and the rally was called.
This week, Parks spokesperson Zachary Feder told The Wave, “We are continuing to work closely with all involved on this matter. This fence has blocked access between two public beaches for decades. Having free passage between them will allow New Yorkers to fully experience the great sweep of the Rockaway peninsula, and strollers and joggers will be able to continue their routes along this great beach.”
“We have no interest at all in rebuilding the fence,” said John Warren, a spokesperson for the federal park.
“We have a new agreement with the city and one thing that agreement holds is that citizens should be able to access all of the beaches, so putting up a fence would send the wrong message. We are not about building fences.” Warren added that the courts have held that topless bathing for women cannot be restricted anywhere in New York State.
“The top courts in the state have said that restricting women from going topless when men can is discriminatory,” Warren said. “The National Park Service keeps our rulings in harmony with state and local rulings.”
Almost on cue, while the politicians were telling the crowd what they would attempt to do, a topless bather wandered over the stone jetty that now separates Riis Park from Rockaway since the fence was blown down.
Aida Ruiz, who told The Wave that she grew up in Rockaway but now lives in Middletown, New York, said that she, too, favors rebuilding the fence.
The half-clothed Ruiz and Neponsit resident Sara Kindler had a loud debate that drew lots of interest from reporters and beachgoers.
At the end, however, both agreed that having the fence between the two beaches was a good idea.
Ruiz and others, however, say that it is the people on the Neponsit side that often leer at them and take photos while they are trying to sunbathe on the Riis Park side.
“We want the fence back as badly as they do,” one male sunbather told The Wave as he waved at the rally. “It’s something that should be done as soon as possible.”