Brooklyn outdoors: Camping, hiking, and rowing on Jamaica Bay

Dog days: Elana Ehrenberg enjoys a roaring campfire while camping at Floyd Bennett Field’s camping grounds.
Community Newspaper Group / Max Jaeger

As warm weather arrives in earnest, the Community Newspaper Group’s adventure corespondent — yours truly — and a companion headed to Floyd Bennett Field — Brooklyn’s portion of the Gateway National Recreation Area — to scope out all the outdoorsy fun to be had in Brooklyn’s only national park.

To get to Floyd Bennett Field, we set out towards Jamaica Bay on bicycles, taking advantage of the Ocean Parkway bike path and Avenue U before a jaunt on the Jamaica Bay Greenway dropped us at our destination.

Two uncharacteristically friendly federal employees at the Ryan Visitor’s Center — originally the former airport’s control tower — gave us a rundown of the rules and pointed out the park’s offerings on a map. On offer was an archery range, kayak launches, and, appropriately for a nature preserve in the flight path of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Airport, a remote-control car track. One ranger explained that the campgrounds would be sleepy this weekend, but will wake up when summer hits, leaving all 30 tent sites and 20 recreational vehicle hookups booked for several months straight.

After checking in, a short pedal down one of the defunct airport and naval station’s runways brought us to the campgrounds, where we came upon as eclectic a mix of neighbors as one can find in Brooklyn. Here was a group of plaid-clad dads bonding with their toddler daughters over s’mores, there a dozen Russians and Ukranians ignoring international tensions to swill cognac together and play charades, and yonder sat a loner hunched over his fire, enjoying the solitude, such as it was.

After setting up our tent, we wandered around the airfield, looking at the old hangars and making our way to the park’s nature trails.

Secluded though the trails appeared, we could still hear a disc jockey bumping Top 40 hits for a 5k run at nearby Aviator Sports Complex and there was the frequent roar of jets taking off and landing at the very-much-active airport next door.

Some ominous clouds and a brief rain sent us back to camp to build a fire before things got too soggy. The park maintains a hefty firewood pile at the campground entrance, so scavenging in the woods is not necessary.

In fact, scavenging for timber is not allowed in the park, and the logs provided are rather large, so you may want to bring your own starter. For this your humble narrator would recommend hitting up your local laundromat — dryer lint makes for light, compactible, and highly combustible kindling.

After the campfire was crackling, we roasted some Nathan’s Famous hotdogs and waited for the stars to come out. A few peeked out of the black, but New York’s immense glow overpowered most of the night sky. We visited with some of our neighbors before turning in early.

The next morning, we packed up and headed to Marine Park to do some kayaking. A vendor there rents hourly and by the day. We paddled toward Gerritsen inlet and the Belt Parkway, but a brisk headwind deterred us, and we stopped on a shell-lined sandbar of the creek’s central island and had lunch. West across the water, a dirt bike buzzed through the section of the park bordering Gerritsen Beach.

Having had our fill of the sea, we mounted up and started the ride home by way of Canarsie. The Jamaica Bay Greenway took us to the Canarsie Pier — also part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. There we eyed the local anglers before hopping onto E. 94th street toward home.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.

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