The battle between developers and tree-huggers is underway at Floyd Bennett Field, where builders want more recreational facilities and bird-lovers insist on bringing back natural habitats.
That became clear Tuesday night, when about 75 people met at the former airport to help write the Gateway National Recreation Area’s management plan, a document that will set the agenda for the national park over the next 20 years.
“Things like trails, walking along beaches and bird-watching have gotten short shrift for too long,” said John Tanacredi, a professor of Earth and Marine sciences at Dowling University, who noted that Floyd Bennett was no different than the Grand Canyon or Yosemite parks, where Mother Nature prevails. “There should be the same principles about preservation of the environment.”
Other, high-powered individuals envision a park that will cater to large quantities of people attending big attractions.
“I’d like to see Floyd Bennett Field used for more events, such as family reunions, cultural celebrations, bicycle rental facilities, kite shows and major trade shows,” said Borough President Markowitz. “How about a high-end antique fair? … Why not set up a drive-in movie? We could even use Floyd Bennett for the East Coast version of Burning Man!”
But using the park for a festival like Burning Man — which attracted close to 50,000 people to Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada in 2008 for a week-long party that culminated with the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy — or any other commercial endeavor would be difficult.
“The law [declaring it a national park] prohibits it from being a commercial space,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Sheepshead Bay), who called the meeting along with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-Brooklyn). The pair of pols also set up a blue-ribbon panel to help determine what should become of the park. “There’s got to be a recreational use, but open space doesn’t mean you have to build something there.”
For years, concessionaires and nature lovers have coexisted on the site where Amelia Earhart took off for her solo trip across the Atlantic and where, since 1972 when it became part of Gateway, nature has been allowed to take its course.
Despite the fact that viewing it using Google Earth clearly shows the man-made runways that intersect upon it, grassland birds like hawks, owls, meadowlarks and kestrels, along with amphibians like eastern box turtles and spring peeper frogs call the park home.
It is also home to the Aviator Sports and Events Center, a year-round campsite, trails, model plane runways, community gardeners, plus operating bases for the NYPD and the Department of Sanitation.
A plan to house a controversial charter school for at-risk youth at Floyd Bennett Field is already on the table.
The consensus may be that the park is in dire need of better funding and care, but some aren’t keen on radically changing its face.
“Don’t displace what is already there,” said Ida Sanoff. “The model-plane people, community gardeners, and environmental people have all peacefully co-existed here for a long time.”