Posts Tagged 'NPS'

Camping in Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Summer is in full swing.  And one of my favorite summertime ‘7th inning stretches’ is going camping.  I love enjoying the fresh air, the stars above on a clear night, and the crackle and smell of the campfire…

Now, I’m no camping pro, mind you.  I’m more of an ‘occasional’ camping enthusiast whose idea of camping usually consists of driving a car right up to the campsite, sleeping in a large tent with a queen-sized air mattress, and enjoying a few craft beers beside my charcoal lighter fluid-soaked campfire.  So, yeah, it’s not exactly ‘Man v. Wild’.

Anyway, as many of you might know, I’ve been living in Brooklyn for about 3 years. And one of the things I love most about living here is the diversity of activities, sights and experiences. And in 3 years, I’ve barely scratched the surface.  So when I began hearing a wild rumor that there was a campground in Brooklyn, I just had to check it out. Wait! Camping in Brooklyn?!? Fuhgeddaboudit!  Well, upon further research, it’s true!  The NYC borough synonymous with Jackie Robinson, Norman Mailer, Biggie, and Nathan’s hot dogs has an actual campground in its concrete midst.  And, no, wise guy, you’re not camping in the middle of a parking lot or under the overpass of the BQE.  More like camping on an abandoned airstrip.  Seriously.

Floyd Bennett Field–An Urban Campground

On Memorial Day Weekend,  I took a ‘7th inning stretch’ from the Big City to check out the urban campground at historic Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY, a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.  The campground is literally located on an abandoned airfield which was once home to NYC’s first municipal airport.

The Ryan Visitor Center. When Floyd Bennett Field opened in 1931, it served as the Airport’s Terminal. Recent refurbishments capture much of the original artistic designs and features of the Terminal as it appeared in the 1930s. In addition to providing useful park info, visitors will find a collection of galleries dedicated to aviation history.

History

Floyd Bennet Field is located in South Brooklyn, about a stone’s throw from Coney Island, and on the western edge of New York’s Jamaica Bay.  It was dedicated as the City’s first municipal airport over 80 years ago, in 1931.  Although it ultimately proved to be commercially unsuccessful, for about 10 years, the airfield was front and center to the so-called Golden Age of Aviation.  Some of the era’s most colorful aviation pioneers–pilots like the one-eyed Wiley Post, “Wrongway” Corrigan, Jacqueline Cochrane, and Howard Hughes–used Floyd Bennett Field as a staging ground for their various aerial feats.

A few of the famous aviators who frequented Floyd Bennett Field during the Golden Age of Aviation

And yet, for all of its fascinating history, Floyd Bennett Field never quite “took off” as a commercially viable civilian airport.  Between the Great Depression and the lack of an efficient highway connecting it to Manhattan, Floyd Bennett Field’s fate as a commercial airport was sealed.  With the onset of the Second World War, however, the airfield was to serve as an invaluable resource.  In 1941, NYC sold the airfield to the Navy, which used it as a training ground as well as a base for patrolling for U-boats.  In 1971, the Navy de-activated the airfield.  Soon thereafter, the National Park Service made it a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area (Gateway NRA), a 26,000 acre stretch of beaches, parks and historic sites extending from parts of NY to NJ.

Today

Today, Gateway NRA offers a variety of nature programs at Floyd Bennett Field including camping, hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs, an aviation museum as well as a guided tour of old Hangar B, where visitors can check out cool vintage aircraft right up close.  In addition to the on-site activities, Floyd Bennett is conveniently located near world-famous Coney Island, the New York Aquarium, and the Rockaways, home to some of the finest beaches in metropolitan NYC.  And for out-of-staters, the campground is accessible to Manhattan via a seasonal ferry located at nearby Jacob Riis Park, which offers limited service to Manhattan.  The campground is definitely an ideal weekend destination for enjoying some diverse exploration of the area.

View from the beach looking across Jamaica Bay. The beach was just a short walk from the campgrounds and Hangar B. Fishermen can be seen standing in the water offshore.

Beach grass on Jamaica Bay. Notice the plane in the upper right. Though Floyd Bennett no longer operates as an airport, you will hear plenty of airplanes from nearby JFK.

Hangar B is the home of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Project (HARP), a US National Park Volunteer aviation group dedicated to locating and restoring historic aircraft, most of which have a connection to Floyd Bennett Field and its history as a former Naval Air Station.  Be sure not to miss one of the informative guided tours of the old, dilapidated Hangar to learn more about the history of the airfield and the diverse collection of ancient aircraft within.  The tour will provide an up close look at old prop planes, bombers, helicopters and a Skyhawk Fighter Jet, to name a few.  There is also a full scale model of the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer.  The tour will really give you a sense of how quickly aviation technology evolved over a relatively short time.

Fairchild PT-26.

Lockheed P-2 Neptune: an anti-submarine patrol bomber

Lockheed P-2 Neptune: an anti-submarine patrol bomber

Camping at Floyd Bennett Field

Okay, enough of the history stuff.  On to the campground!  Despite its urban location, the campground at Floyd Bennett Field is surprisingly rural.  The camping area presently consists of about 40 tent sites, which are fairly spread out, as well as 6 sites for recreational vehicles.  I stayed at the Tamarack Loop.  Tamarack, and the adjacent Goldenrod Loop, consists of a large grassy meadow surrounded by trees and shrubs, creating a very rural feel.  You’d hardly believe that your tent is situated essentially right next to the original air strip from which planes once took flight. Each tent site consists of a picnic table, a grill and a fire ring.  A couple of larger sites also have open-air gazebos offering shade or cover from rain.  Most sites can accommodate up to two tents.  And the Park Service provides a steady supply of free firewood for campers.  Bathrooms, while primitive, are only a short walking distance away from the tents.  Showers?  Well, let’s just say you’ll probably end up roughing it.  If that doesn’t appeal to you, however, showers are apparently available during limited hours to campers for a $10 fee at the nearby Aviator Sports facility.

My tent site upon arrival at the Tamarack Loop.

My campsite is complete! Ready for a campfire and a couple cold brews!

While the location is decidedly rural in appearance, one will not likely confuse Floyd Bennett with a peaceful Vermont forest anytime soon.  Rather than falling asleep to the serenade of crickets, be prepared to be lulled to sleep by the gentle roar of jet engines!  JFK, one of the world’s busiest international airports, is located a mere 11 miles away directly across Jamaica Bay.  (Bear in mind, this is still the City that Never Sleeps…) And don’t forget to pack the bug spray!  The campground is close to the water and the mosquitos are vicious at Floyd Bennett.  That said, it’s camping!  If you want a good night’s sleep, stay at a Holiday Inn Express or something…

‘Primitive’ bathrooms. Note: there is no flushing water inside, and you might want to bring your own TP. A water faucet (not pictured) is located across from the bathrooms. In addition to this facility, portable WC’s were available.

I spent a couple nights at Floyd Bennett and, overall, I really enjoyed the Brooklyn camping experience.  And I would definitely recommend camping enthusiasts check it out, especially if you already live in the NYC area and are thinking about an inexpensive ‘staycation’.  And if you have kids, it’s an affordable and convenient way to take the family camping without leaving the City.  Floyd Bennett also has the advantage of still being ‘under the radar’.  The National Park Service only recently expanded the campground from 4 to 40 sites.  I made reservations for Memorial Day Weekend, and while a lot of people were there, it was definitely not filled to capacity.  For reservations, which are recommended, check out the National Park Service’s website here.

Sunset at the Tamarack Loop at Floyd Bennett Field campground.

For a unique urban camping experience in the heart of Brooklyn, take a ‘7th inning stretch’ and check out Floyd Bennett Field, where roasting s’mores over a campfire is as synonymous with Brooklyn as Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch…

An idyllic campfire at dusk…in Brooklyn!

For official information and updates, visit the official NY Harbor Parks’ website and Twitter account, and Gateway NPS’s website and Twitter account.

Cheers!


Follow me at @7thinnstretches

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