Gateway National Recreation Area

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At the entrance to the great New York-New Jersey estuary, two-arms of land stretch across the water toward each other, forming a natural gateway through which millions of immigrants entered a new world. This dramatic approach provided inspiration for the name of the national park site-Gateway National Recreational Area.

One of these land arms is Sandy Hook, the New Jersey unit of Gateway; the other is Rockaway Peninsula in New York, where the park's Breezy Point district is located. The other Gateway units, Staten Island and Jamaica Bay, lie within the arms. Together the four units contain 26,000 acres of land and water-ocean beaches, dunes, wooded uplands, bays, a holly forest, a wildlife refuge, two forts, two historic airfields, and the Nation's oldest lighthouse in continuous operation. Besides its natural and historic features, Gateway provides outstanding opportunities for recreation, such as swimming, fishing, basketball, softball, football, soccer, and jogging. Or, you may wish to do nothing but relax, and let the noise and bustle drain away as you watch birds fly by and waves roll in. Gateway is a place for both activity and relaxation.

That these parklands have been preserved in the midst of one of the world's largest urban areas is the result of people's determination to preserve open spaces for future generations. Former military bases have become part of Gateway's parkland. Other areas were preserved because citizens decided that they did not want scarce recreation space lost to developers. Large areas of the park were donated by the City of New York and the States of New York and New Jersey. Responding to these efforts, Congress created Gateway in 1972 as one of the first large urban parks to be managed by the National Park Service.

As you explore the park, let your imagination go wild and try to envision what this land looked like when European settlers arrived in the early 17th century. Since then, the lands and waters of Gateway have been altered drastically by humans. Algonquin Indian encampments and villages, which numbered about 100, gave way to farms, forts, warehouses, and mills powered by the wind and tides. As New York and urban New Jersey grew, docks were built along the shores, and wetlands were filled to support roads, houses, factories, and airports.

Many birds and other animals disappeared. The waters became contaminated, the air polluted. Fish populations decreased, and huge oyster and clamming industries shut down. Some waters became unsafe for swimming. It was a situation that boded ill for the future.

But love for the natural world and healthy outdoor recreation did not die. In Jamaica Bay in 1953, a wildlife refuge was established through the efforts of Robert Moses and developed through the dedication of horticulturist Herbert Johnson. At Sandy Hook, the rare holly forest was preserved through careful management by the New Jersey State Park Commission. In the Rockaways in New York, citizens halted the building of a highrise complex to preserve the natural quality of a rare stretch of ocean beach. Then, in the late 1960s, came a nationwide clamor for cleaner air, clean water, and the preservation of natural, open spaces.

The two related efforts-restoring the quality of the metropolitan environment and establishing Gateway's character-add up to an enormous task. Much has been done, yet years of effort lie ahead. Emission controls help produce cleaner air. Cities have undertaken the long, hard job of cleaning up waterways by improving sewage treatment systems, already resulting in cleaner water and better fishing. Since the park opened in 1974, there has been an on-going cleanup of beaches and community involvement. Through educational programs at the park, thousands of schoolchildren have discovered Gateway's historic sites and natural beauty. As in times past, Gateway offers a new world-a gateway to open spaces, personal adventure, and enrichment.

Published: 1 Sep 2009 | Last Updated: 9 Jun 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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