New York's Hidden Gem
New York’s Hidden Gem – Your new summer getaway
Run, hike, camp, kayak, nature bathe (yes, that’s a real thing) – there’s one part of the five boroughs that can serve it all like no other. Do you know where it is? Chances are, if you’re like most New Yorkers, you don’t.
Far (but not that far) from the urban oasis of Central Park sit the Jamaica Bay islands. This ecologically important area is tucked in to the outer boroughs of biggest city in the country — effectively creating a natural gem, hiding in plain sight.
If we’re being honest, I’ll have to disclose that I didn’t know much about this great place or its natural amenities until I began working at The Nature Conservancy. After a quick Google search, the photos I had found of Jamaica Bay and its public-accessible coastal areas inspired me to take a trip there to get the full effect.
Do a little research and you’ll see how truly amazing the Jamaica Bay islands are.
Most notably, the islands of Jamaica Bay are part of federally protected land. Just south of Howard Beach, Queens, the landscape includes the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge — a premier birding destination. Among the long list of avian wildlife that can be seen at Jamaica Bay is the Red Knot. This incredible shorebird winters in South America and, during its long annual migration to the arctic breeding grounds, makes a stopover in the coastal habitat around the Big Apple where it feeds on horseshoe crab eggs. Jamaica Bay is also the country’s only federally protected wildlife refuge that is staffed by members of the National Park Service, rather than US Fish & Wildlife Service — a fact that is often overlooked.
To the west, across the water on the Brooklyn side of the bay, lies Floyd Bennett Field — an old World War II-era airfield that is now the only place where one can legally camp overnight inside the five boroughs. Full of lush, green grass and far from the blinding lights of midtown Manhattan, the clear night sky makes it quite easy to forget that you’re still in New York City — (you know, that place where 'stargazing' usually refers to celebrity sightings in the Village).
Collectively, these coastal parks and the surrounding landscape comprise the Gateway National Recreation Area. Beyond providing endless recreational opportunities and key habitat for wildlife inside NYC, Jamaica Bay’s islands and wetlands serve as part of a critical natural defense system that, if taken care of, can help fight the effects of climate change like rising sea levels and more extreme annual storms. The Conservancy’s Climate Adaptation Tool illustrates that there is serious potential of losing a big part of this area to related threats. If more people knew about this hidden gem, odds are more people would be willing to protect it — after all, this is the (seemingly) unknown backyard of many New Yorkers.
The Nature Conservancy will be working with the National Park Service and the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy to help restore the ecological health of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Stay tuned for more details about the work this summer. In the mean time, check out the Conservancy’s upcoming volunteer events at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge with Sadhana.