Did you know that a portion of New York City contains a National Park Recreation Center?
The Gateway National Recreation Center is located in sections of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and New Jersey in areas that are shaded in green in the map below. (All photos will enlarge when double clicked on)
The National Park's website states: "Gateway covers more than 40 square miles in New York and New Jersey. That’s an area nearly twice the size of the island of Manhattan. The park attracts over 9 million visitors a year—making it the third most visited National Park in America The woods, waters and beaches at Gateway are the perfect place for ocean swimming, nature walks, sailing, bicycling, bird watching, camping, astronomy and fishing. In the middle of these natural areas, you can stroll through an historic aircraft hangar or tour forts that reveal important stories in our nation’s history."
In Brooklyn, Floyd Bennett Field is part of Gateway. This historic airfield opened in 1931 as New York's first municipal airport and was named for naval aviator and Brooklyn resident Floyd Bennett, who was the first person to fly over the North Pole. In the early days of aviation it was a point of departure for record-breaking flights of famous aviators, including Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes.
After serving as the city's municipal airport, Floyd Bennett Field was converted to a Naval Air Station in 1941. It was the most active airport in the United States during World War II, and it has an important place in the history of military aviation. In 1971, the U.S. Navy deactivated the Field. Soon thereafter, the National Park Service made the location part of Gateway National Recreation Area. .
The historic control tower and terminal at Floyd Bennett Field had been converted into the site's visitor's center and is now undergoing extensive renovation. Volunteers are working on the park's collection of historic aircraft in Hanger B for future display. If you'd like to learn more about the history of Floyd Bennett Field as a municipal airport you can read a National Park's Service brochure on PDF at this link, and for a PDF on its history as a Naval airport click on this link.
One of the special places I like to visit in Gateway are the community gardens. The gardens at Floyd Bennett Field are probably the city’s largest, and currently hold more than 400 garden plots. The community gardens program offers a picnic area, a "Champions of Courage Garden" with wheelchair access, and a "Children’s Garden."
Garden plots are available to residents of all the boroughs of New York City through an application, although there is a long waiting list for new members at present.
Most of the community plots are well maintained and neatly gardened.
One of my favorite garden plots was the one in this photo collage. This gardener obviously spent a lot of time making brick pathways along their neat vegetable beds and they even made a shady nook for their picnic table.
Some more scenes from the community garden.
I liked the varied and creative ways each gardener enclosed his plot. One of the gates (top middle in the photo collage) was a recycled wooden side of a baby's crib!
I took a hike this weekend on one of the Gateway park paths that leads to Dead Horse Bay.
Why is the area called such a grusome name? According to the New York Times, "From the 1850's until the 1930's, the carcasses of dead horses and other animals from New York City streets were used to manufacture glue, fertilizer and other products at the site. The chopped-up, boiled bones were later dumped into the water. The squalid bay, then accessible only by boat, was reviled for the putrid fumes that hung overhead.
The number of horse carcasses in Dead Horse Bay dwindled as the automobile grew in popularity, and by the 1920's only one rendering plant remained. Sand, coal and garbage were used as landfill to connect Barren Island to the Brooklyn mainland in the 1920's, and the Barren Island Airport, later renamed Floyd Bennett Field."
The bay now looks reclaimed by nature, except when you begin to walk along the shore where you'll see hundreds of old bottles washed to shore, some that are over a hundred years old, from the city garbage that was once dumped here and from the garbage used as part of the landfill to fill in the marshlands and islands to form Floyd Bennett Field.
It is a sobering reminder of the permanent impact garbage makes on the environment, and I'm happy that New York City now recycles glass, plastics and paper. Scavengers, collectors and the curious often visit Dead Horse Bay at low tide looking for antique and rare bottles.
Another sight often seen on the beaches around Gateway are the very unusual looking horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus). As a species, horseshoe crabs are estimated to be at least 300 million years old. They are most closely related to trilobites that existed 544 million years ago. Horseshoe crabs are often called "Living Fossils" for this reason.