Floyd Bennett Field became the cheapest hotel in the city this summer when it was transformed into an urban campground where more than 2,000 people slept under the stars, according to the park’s management.
The former airfield expanded its camping area this summer, attracting tourists who would rest their head under the stars at night after touring the city by day (and, we suppose, into the night), a spokesman for Floyd Bennett Field told us.
“We had a number of international visitors,” explained spokesman John Warren. “Many of them thought that camping at Floyd Bennett would be a great way to visit New York.”
It was also a stellar bargain for those travelling on the cheap: the campsites, which can accommodate up to six people, are $20 a day for a maximum of 14 consecutive days — that’s two weeks for just $280. A night stay at a hotel in Brooklyn can range between $189 to $289 a night — or up to $4046 for two weeks (before tax!).
But for those who don’t mind roughing it — there is no electricity, limited bathrooms and showers and the only way to get to the city would be to drive (free parking is provided in Floyd Bennett Field) or to hop the Q35 bus outside the park to a Manhattan-bound 4 train at the Flatbush-Midwood junction — the campsite is the city’s best deal.
Warren couldn’t say how many penny-pinching tourists used Floyd Bennett Field this summer — campers aren’t required to file their itineraries with the National Park Service — but said they were one of three types of campers that came to the park this season.
“There were many local residents who didn’t have camping experience but wanted to learn,” he said. “We also had regular campers who visit campgrounds throughout the United States.”
Floyd Bennett Field was a premier spot for beginners because it is so close to civilization, Warren added. A host of supermarkets and restaurants — not to mention the Kings Plaza mall — are less than a mile away.
“You want to come to an accessible spot like Floyd Bennett Field to learn about the camping basics before you go to a place like Yosemite,” he explained.
The National Parks Service expanded Floyd Bennett Field’s five campsites to 40 this summer as it kicked off its plan to make the historic 387-acre airstrip the nation’s largest urban campground. Six of the 40 places were reserved for RV camping.
Ninety campsites are expected to be in place by 2013, but by then the National Park Service may recruit private corporations to help with the $10 million price tag.
If the plan is a success, Floyd Bennett Field could be expanded to hold 600 campsites, explained U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar when he announced the National Park Service’s plan in June.
“We are planning to create a model for a new generation of Great Urban Parks in America,” Salazar said. “We want every citizen of the New York area — particularly the children — to have easy and accessible access to outdoor recreation and the cultural and historical heritage that makes this part of the country unique.”
The campsite expansion may be a boon for Floyd Bennett Field, which has been trying to find its niche for decades.
After joining Gateway National Recreation Area in 1972, the former airstrip hosted nothing but a few festivals until the turn of the century, when Aviator Sports and Recreation was built on the southwestern side of the massive property.
But besides Aviator Sports and a community garden, the rest of the park is largely unused, with a few vacant, dilapidated buildings peppered throughout.
Several people have floated plans to improve Floyd Bennett Field, but none has been welcomed with open arms: panned proposals included putting a charter school inside the national park and bringing commuter flights back to the airstrip.