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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Amersfort Park

Like a great many things in New York City, Amersfort Park reflects the area's history of Dutch settlement. This pleasant, quiet green space – quiet, that is, except when gangs of Crips gather – carries on the old name of today's Flatlands neighborhood: New Amersfort.

amersfort park flatlands brooklyn nyc

Amersfoort, Holland is known for a weird story about a boulder dragged to the city because of a bet in 1661. Brooklyn's Amersfort Park contains a replica of that very boulder.

amersfort park flatlands brooklyn nyc

The inscription reads: "THE NEW AMERSFORT ROCK. This park is named after the city of Amersfoort in The Netherlands, the homeland of the Dutch settlers who colonized and farmed this area of Brooklyn in the 1620s. The New Amersfort Rock is a replica of the 200,000-year-old rock that proudly stands in the city of Amersfoort. This rock has become a symbol of the city of Amersfoort and links the Dutch and Brooklyn communities together."

Pretty unsatisfying as explanations go, with no mention of that possibly embarrassing legend.

Looked after by the Friends of Amersfort Park as well as by the Parks Department, the three-and-a-half-acre park has a pleasantly rolling grassy field and some nice landscaping, with views of the area's Victorian houses. As one frequenter noted soporifically via Foursquare a few years ago, "You can sleep under a tree."

amersfort park flatlands brooklyn nyc
amersfort park flatlands brooklyn nyc
amersfort park flatlands brooklyn nyc

Another, though, wrote, "The park is nice, but does not seem safe when the sun is going down. There's a group of shady loss smoking s little something something!" (I'm not sure what "loss" is a mistype for, but you get the idea.) Maybe to counter that impression, the park hosts a movie series in the summer, where you can get some wholesome entertainment to go with your "something something." Friends of Amersfort Park doesn't let things lie fallow in the winter: their Peace in the Park winter celebration in 2014 featured "a holiday tree lighting, Menorah and Kinara lighting, and performances by the PS 119 Children’s Choir and East Flatbush Village Dancers and Step team."

The park has one notable icon besides its boulder: the Amersfort Park Memorial Fountain, one of Brooklyn's very few public fountains. A mention in the City Record from 1919 is the only reference to the fountain's history that I could find on an online search. If anyone knows more about this handsome fountain, please leave a comment!

amersfort park flatlands brooklyn nyc

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Canarsie Pier

Canarsie Pier, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, isn't a city park, or even properly a park at all. But its wide spaces, open air, and location jutting into Jamaica Bay make it feel like one. Even the approach from Rockaway Parkway and the Belt Parkway is parklike.

canarsie pier brooklyn nyc

We had the place nearly to ourselves on a late afternoon in February.

canarsie pier brooklyn nyc

The pier is best known for the fishing excursions that leave from it in the early mornings. There are also kayaking in season, summer concerts, birds, and the occasional "dead man floating." ("At first, police thought Nieves was dead, but then, he started flapping his arms and yelling for help," the Daily News reported in July 2015.)

We spotted a duck, or duck-like creature, that we couldn't identify. It wasn't flapping anything, not even its wings, nor was it yelling for help. Instead, it kept diving under the water to find food, which made it hard for me to get a sharp photo. But I'd like to know what species it is.

canarsie pier brooklyn nyc

I like the bird and fish designs in the side arches of the entrance.

canarsie pier brooklyn nyc

Things were busy here a century ago. The Golden City Amusement Park opened on the site in 1907, looking pretty spectacular in this image.

golden city amusement park canarsie pier brooklyn nyc
Image from the Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection

All that's gone, of course. But some big old metal bollards are here to remind us of old seafaring times.

canarsie pier brooklyn nyc

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Canarsie Park

In an era of climate change and superstorms, restoring wetlands is a bigger priority than ever for a seaside city like New York. One "urban freshwater wetland restoration" site is at 132-acre Canarsie Park, which runs from Paerdegat Basin east along the south coast of Brooklyn as far as Canarsie Pier.

The goal, according to the Parks Department, is to create a "man-made new freshwater wetland complex carved out of dredge spoils, overflowing into Jamaica Bay."

That's exciting! Dredge spoils are my favorite kind of spoils.

We got a glimpse of the wetlands while walking through the park on an unseasonably warm February day:

canarsie park brooklyn nyc

A quiet, breezy place that seemed at first glance almost featureless, Canarsie Park looked like a windswept prairie where not much besides tall grasses could grow.

canarsie park brooklyn nyc

canarsie park brooklyn nycThere are trees here, but they don't dominate as they do in many parks. We did encounter a school group taking a brisk walk up and down the rises along Lookout Path East and Lookout Path West, where winter-bare trees stood, overseen by a lone raptor.

canarsie park brooklyn nyc

According to a helpful sign, "You are standing in an area that is slowly developing into a mature woodland mostly through natural processes. Aside from a few pin oaks and honey locusts, which were planted long ago, the trees here took root on their own."

canarsie park brooklyn nyc

The sign mentions the presence of black cherry trees, Chinese elms, cottonwoods, and more, already present when plantings in 2008 and 2010 added more trees and shrubs. Bottom line: this place is very much in transition. It's hard to imagine what it will look like in, say, 30 years.

It's a good bet these hoary London plane trees will still be here, though.

canarsie park brooklyn nyc

Established by the City of Brooklyn in the 1890s, just before the great consolidation of the five boroughs into our single and singular city, Canarsie Park has been expanded numerous times, most recently in 1958. The 17th-century Schenck House, now on display at the Brooklyn Museum, once stood here, on what was known for a while as Mill Island (though I don't know how far back in time you'd have to travel to find an actual island).

According to Hidden Waters of New York City by Sergey Kadinsky, "The Schenck family owned the house for three generations, finally selling it in 1784…In 1909 the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Company acquired the house and surrounding land as it sought to transform the marshland into a thriving industrial seaport. The house fell into disrepair."

Needless to say, no "thriving industrial seaport" was ever established here. Thus we can still enjoy peaceful vistas like this one:

canarsie park brooklyn nyc

Before discovering Canarsie Park, all I had known about Canarsie was that its pier was known as a good fishing spot. My family lived in the neighborhood for a short time many years ago, before I was old enough to remember much of anything, and my mother doesn't have fond memories of the place. So I never paid it much mind. But now I know, and you know, that it has a large, interesting park, with play areas and a fitness course.

canarsie park brooklyn nyc
canarsie park brooklyn nyc

To close with a digression: Just outside the park is the Midget Squadron Yacht Club. Wiped out by Sandy in 2012, it has bounced back, even electing its first female commodore this winter, as the New York Times reported. (I didn't even know yacht clubs had commodores.

midget squadron yacht club canarsie brooklyn nyc

The name "Midget Squadron" makes me think of the cute nicknames bomber squads would give themselves during World War Two. But there's nothing military about it – it just refers to the small size of the club's "fleet" on its founding. Here's to another century for the this common people's boating club, founded "around 1900," based in a former military Quonset hut, and "hardly a snooty establishment" as per the Times.

Nothing snooty about Canarsie Park, either. Or Canarsie, for that matter. Which is probably just how the locals like it.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Paerdegat Basin Park

Paerdegat Basin Park, on the southeast Brooklyn coast, is one of those more-or-less natural areas that's called a park, but that you can't actually go into – with one very recent exception.

The "park" is a saltwater wetland surrounding Paerdegat Basin, which divides the neighborhoods of Canarsie to the northeast and Bergen Beach to the southwest. The basin is a one-time tidal creek that was widened and dredged in the 1930s into a 1.25-mile-long channel as part of an aborted Long Island Railroad extension project.

paerdegat basin brooklyn nyc

Last year the city's Department of Environmental Protection completed a $455 million "holistic upgrade" to the grasslands and waterway, improving the grounds and the water quality and planting 1,100 trees. The DEP monitors the park – half of which is technically underwater – "to ensure that it remains a stable environment to support the wildlife in the area," according to the Parks Department.

paerdegat basin brooklyn nyc
paerdegat basin brooklyn nyc

The only wildlife we saw was a man walking his dog in one of the McGuire ballfields at the mouth of the basin.

mcguire fields paerdegat basin brooklyn nyc

We became aware of Paerdegat Basin from an NY1 report last summer about the opening of something there. I didn't catch the details at the time, but it must have been about the new five-acre Paerdegat Basin Ecology Park, discussed in this DEP press release from October 2015. The release also goes into detail about that costly upgrade to the formerly very polluted basin area.

paerdegat basin ecology park brooklyn nyc
The Paerdegat Basin Ecology Park, photographed through the double-locked gate

In addition to the Ecology Park there's supposed to be a walkable grassland park. We'll return in the warmer weather to see if those areas have been opened.

Meanwhile, here's a short DEP video about the restoration of wetlands around New York City. It includes photos of the Paerdegat Basin area and the Ecology Park. And if you're wondering how locals pronounce "Paerdegat" – which means "horse gate" in Dutch – you can listen to the video for that too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Winfield Plaza/Crosson Memorial Park

New York City has plenty of mini-parks where streets cross at acute and obtuse angles leaving small triangular patches of land with no other practical use. Rarely, though, is one of the streets the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, known colloquially as the BQE. Winfield Plaza, also designated Crosson Memorial Park, in the Woodside neighborhood of Queens, is just such a place.

winfield plaza crosson park woodside queens nyc bqe

Actually suspended above the BQE, where 68th and 69th Streets both run into Woodside Avenue, the little plaza was acquired by the city in 1955 as part of a renovation project on the expressway – a road which, as everyone knows, is now a beautiful jewel in the golden chain of pastoral highways that spiderweb our fair city.

Why "Winfield"? Well, wouldn't you know it, there used to be a neighborhood here called Winfield, named after Civil War general and 1880 Democratic presidential candidate Winfield Scott Hancock. (If you were hoping it had something to do with Dave Winfield, sorry. This is Queens, after all, not The Bronx. As a consolation prize, see the baseball reference below.)

winfield plaza crosson park woodside queens nyc bqe

Why "Crosson"? In the 20th century the neighborhood of Winfield lost its identity and was absorbed into Maspeth and Woodside. In 1968 the City Council renamed the spot Reverend Matthew J. Crosson Memorial Park after a noted World War II army chaplain and local pastor, born in Manhattan but a resident of Woodside in his youth and when he was ordained. According to the Parks Department, Crosson was later nicknamed "the baseball priest" because he was closely associated with youth sports leagues.

winfield plaza crosson park woodside queens nyc bqe

Either the Park Department signage hasn't caught up, or somebody over there has a sentimental attachment to the Winfield connection. The department's historical sign program, at least online, still lists it as Winfield Park.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Winterregnum

The winter months are a slow time for Park Odyssey, but scenes still catch my eye in and around parks. Here are a few Manhattan snapshots from the end of 2015 and the start of 2016.

The first is the tip of Pier 45 in Hudson River Park, where on some days, in the late afternoon and early evening, dancers gather to tango, waltz, and otherwise while away the time in each others' arms. I see them sometimes when I'm out running. In the winter I go running only on unseasonably warm days, and on one of those, to my surprise, there were the dancers – unseasonably dancing.

pier 45 hudson river park manhattan nyc dancers dancing
Dancers at Pier 45, Hudson River Park, December 2015

My perambulations through some of the parks in the interior of the great island revealed scenes of restfulness, community, and frosty beauty.

madison square park manhattan nyc
Madison Square Park, December 2015

bryant park ice skating rink manhattan nyc
Ice skaters in Bryant Park, January 2016

union square sunset manhattan nyc
Sunset over Union Square Park, December 2015

union square park blizzard 2016 manhattan nyc
Union Square Park after the snow, January 2016

I'll be back with newly explored parks well before the winter's out. Stay tuned!


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Barrett Triangle and Baker Square

Barrett Triangle, a tiny park near Staten Island's Borough Hall, is notable for the Clarence T. Barrett Memorial, a bronze classical warrior figure on a marble pedestal.

barrett triangle staten island nyc

Barrett fought notably in the Civil War and then worked as a landscape architect, making him an especially appropriate park honoree, and a sanitation engineer (likewise, if you ask me). He also served as a Police Commissioner, back when there was actually a Commission consisting of multiple Commissioners (Theodore Roosevelt being the most famous example). And he held a position we no longer have (but maybe should): Superintendent of the Poor.

clarence t barrett memorial staten island nyc

The monument is by Sherry Edmundson Fry (1879–1966), a sculptor who worked at the confluence of art and war. Not only was Fry a noted sculptor, he helped found the U.S Army's first Camouflage Corps, responsible for camouflaging artillery positions during World War One. But according to Wikipedia, Fry "defied regulations and went out alone in abandoned trenches, looking for enemy helmets, belt buckles and other souvenirs." He sounds like a man I would have liked to know.

clarence t barrett memorial staten island nyc

We discovered Barrett Triangle when we arrived early for what proved a memorable meal at Enoteca Maria, a restaurant with more personality than ten trendy Manhattan eateries combined, and darn good food to boot.

On that September day, Staten Island Borough Hall preened with lush, colorful planters.

staten island borough hall nyc

Around the back, I could resist taking this contrasting photo. I never knew retired U.S. flags were to be dropped in a mailbox that says "No Mail." You really do learn something every day in this city.

staten island borough hall nyc

Nearby too is a Greenstreets plot called Baker Square, named for former Borough President Edward Grant Baker. The little amelanchier trees must be a beautiful sight when they're blooming.

baker square staten island nyc

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media