Gateway National Recreation Area
is a 26,000-acre national park
, and Staten Island
in New York
as well as Monmouth County
in New Jersey
. The park lines the Atlantic Ocean
and features wildlife sanctuaries
, beaches, recreational facilities, athletic facilities, fishing, hiking, biking, and special event
Gateway, along with Golden Gate Recreation Area (San Francisco), was one of the first urban national recreation areas. The preservation of the area was the result of years of work by several different parties, including Robert Moses, the New Jersey State Park Commission, and Herbert Johnson, as well as government and public movements toward clean air and water and open space preservation.
The Recreation Area is populated with a massive variety of shore birds, passerines, and birds of prey, and many bird migratory patterns follow the shoreline, making the area ideal for birdwatching, especially in the spring and fall. (Sandy Hook is a nesting area for, among other birds, the osprey, which make their nests there in the spring and summer.) Also notable are the mating habits of the horseshoe crab, which are celebrated each April in Sandy Hook in a Park event. New Jersey is also one of very few states that protects their sand dunes and dune grass, making for an enjoyable and highly unique beach-going experience. Staten Island has the unique characteristic in this park of being a popular stop during the monarch butterfly migrations to and from Mexico. The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is the seasonal home of thousands of birds of literally hundreds of various species, as the refuge provides upwards of a dozen different habitats for birds, fish, and plants, in both fresh and salt waters. Preservation and cleanup of the area has been the work of special-interest, school, and park-run groups across New York City and coastal New Jersey, with special projects planned throughout the year.
The Recreation Area consists of 4 major units. Details are provided below on these units, running east to west from Queens to New Jersey, and the major attractions therein.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens, NY -
9155 acres of several types of habitats, including several islands in the bay itself. The refuge is very popular for birdwatching, and also has places for hiking, fishing, and nature walks (the park rangers lead walks all year round). The Visitor Center
is located on Cross Bay Boulevard
in Broad Channel
, minutes from exit 17 of the Belt Parkway
or from the A train
(Broad Channel stop, Rockaway Park
or Far Rockaway
bound only). The wildlife refuge (according to a street atlas) appears to include Spring Creek Park
, Bergen Beach Park
, Canarsie Beach Park
, and Rockaway Community Park
Canarsie Pier, Brooklyn, NY - Built in the 1930's as a "publicly financed neighborhood waterfront project", the pier faces the Rockaway Peninsula and is used year-round for fishing, picnicking, and a large number of summer events. The pier is just off exit 13 of the Belt Parkway and is accessible by bus from the L train.
Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, NY - This place was originally (in 1928) a municipal airport and named after "New York's favorite aviator" at the time. The Navy leased the field from the city in 1941, and the naval station remained active until 1971. Now, only helicopters fly out of the field. Currently, along with birdwatching, and fishing, weekly events include arts, poetry readings, and model train exhibits. Special events also include historic aircraft restoration exhibits and tours and the occasional concert. Camping facilities are also available seasonally; reservations must be made in adavance. The field is about 1 minute south of exit 11 on the Belt Parkway, on Flatbush Avenue, and is accessible by bus from the 2/5 trains.
Marine Park, Brooklyn, NY - While much of Marine Park was donated to the National Park Service, "Marine Park" is not actually part of the Recreation Area.
Riis Park, Rockaway (Queens), NY - named for Jacob Riis, a journalist and public park advocate, this park is a popular site for beachcombers, picnickers, and swimmers. Riis Park also features a golf course, basketball courts, baseball fields, and some birdwatching activities. The bathhouse and clock tower are prominent landmarks here. Riis Park is located just across the Marine Parkway Bridge, off exit 11 of the Belt Parkway, and is accessible by bus from the 2/5 train, the A train (Rockaway Park bound only) or the S train from Broad Channel. Parking fees are charged in the summer.
Fort Tilden, Rockaway (Queens), NY - located just next to Riis Park, Fort Tilden was active as a naval air station from 1917 to 1974. Current activities include birdwatching (hawkwatching, in particular, is popular when in season), beachcombing and swimming. Historical tours and presentations are also available, but must be reserved in advance. Fort Tilden is easily accessible, located just across the Marine Parkway Bridge or by bus from the 2/5, A (Rockaway Park), or S trains.
Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, NY -
located just off the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
on Staten Island, Fort Wadsworth is an active U.S. Coast Guard
station as well as a former Navy
station. This fort was built in the 19th century, and was built around the original settlement on Staten Island. The fort also has a lighthouse
, which was used during the early parts of the 20th century to guide ships through the Narrows, until the Verrazano was completed in the mid-1960's. Park rangers still lead tours of the fort, and there are exhibits and films available. The fort also boasts a Navy lodge
(for active duty and retired naval officers and families only) as well as a Coast Guard guest house; both require advance reservations. The Fort is a 10-minute drive from the Staten Island Ferry
or a very short drive from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (exit 15 of the Staten Island Expressway
, I-278), and is served by the S51
Great Kills Park, Staten Island, NY - Before 1953, Great Kills (like most of Staten Island) was a landfill; it was then made into a city park, and in 1972, was transferred to the United States Park Service. The park has facilities for baseball, football, fishing, boating, swimming, and even a model airplane field. Organized group activities include stargazing, birdwatching, and geology and monarch butterfly walks. The park is served by the S78 bus (from the Staten Island Ferry) and is just off Hylan Boulevard.
Miller Field, Staten Island, NY - This airfield was active in the first half of the 20th century as an Army air base, and became part of the Gateway in 1974. There are two aircraft hangars available for a ranger-guided tour, as well as several athletic fields (home to, among others, the Staten Island Soccer League), a garden, and a swamp-forest that are perfect for hiking. The field is located on New Dorp Lane, near Hylan Boulevard (close to Great Kills Park), and is accessible by the S78 bus.
Sandy Hook, Monmouth County, NJ -
a five-mile peninsula
that extends into New York Bay
, Sandy Hook was one of the locations for the initial houses of the United States Life Saving Service
, which would later become the United States Coast Guard
. One lifeboat station, called Spermaceti Cove
(built in 1894), still survives and is used as the visitor center, which houses exhibits on the history of the USLSS. Sandy Hook is now a very popular beach setting; watch your signs, though, as there is an exclusively nude beach
in the area. Sandy Hook is also a popular location for birdwatching and fishing, and the Sandy Hook Old Dune Trail
is a worthwhile walking/hiking excursion. To visit, take the Garden State Parkway
or NJ State Route 35 to NJ State Route 36, and follow signs across the Navesink River
to Sandy Hook. There is no train service. Parking fees are assessed in summer.
Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Monmouth County, NJ - The lighthouse was built by the State of New York and first opened in 1764, making it the oldest original lighthouse in the United States. It was also the first to use an incandescent bulb, in 1889. The light was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, on the light's 200th anniversary. In 1996, the Coast Guard transferred ownership of the light to the National Park Service, but the Coast Guard does still operate and maintain the light, as it is part of Fort Hancock. The Fort did not open as a defensive structure until 1899, and was operational until 1974. Some of the buildings are still open for summer tours (available with reservations).
This is an entry for the U.S. National Parks and Monuments Quest
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge:
www.brooklyn-usa.org/neighborhoods/canflat.htm (Google cache)
Floyd Bennett Field:
Great Kills Park:
Sandy Hook Lighthouse: