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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.