By Gabriel Sandoval, originally published in THE CITY
Parts of Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field will reopen Saturday after closing nearly seven weeks ago to store inactive MTA buses, the National Park Service announced Friday.
The move comes as New Yorkers await Mayor Bill de Blasio’s green light to return to city parks and playgrounds shuttered to reduce the possibility of the coronavirus spreading.
Socially distanced activities — including fishing, biking and hiking — can resume on Saturday at the Floyd Bennett Field section of Gateway National Recreation Area, federal officials said. New fishing licenses will not be issued yet, but permits issued in 2019 will be honored.
The campground, archery range, sport fields and the Ryan Visitor Center will remain closed until further notice, a Gateway spokesperson told THE CITY.
“The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers and partners continues to be paramount,” said the spokesperson, Brenda Ling. “At Gateway, our operational approach will be to continue to examine each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance, and will be regularly monitored.”
Ling said it’s incumbent upon visitors to adhere to federal health and safety guidelines. “If there are large groups congregating or team sports, the U.S. Park Police will break up such gatherings,” she warned.
Boon for Birdwatchers
The vast field had closed to the public on April 27 to become a makeshift parking lot for MTA buses taken off the streets amid coronavirus-driven service reductions. With transit service ramping up as the city slowly reopens, buses are no longer kept on the site, Ling said.
The closure had upset many longtime visitors, including the 400 members of the Floyd Bennett Gardens Association, which maintains plots on the expansive federally owned land.
Days after THE CITY reported gardeners’ outrage over being shut out despite the ability to maintain a safe distance from others while planting and pruning, the National Park Service allowed them to return.
But the larger facility remained closed to the general public. That’s been a major disappointment to birdwatchers, said David Barrett, who runs four Twitter accounts for bird-loving New Yorkers, including Brooklyn Bird Alert.
“It’s among the top few locations where birders like to go to,” he said. “Birders like to go to Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, and Floyd Bennett Field offered habitats that those other places do not have.”
Birds, such as Eastern meadowlarks, American pipits and grasshopper sparrows, appear in the field’s grasslands, but don’t normally grace parts of the city, Barrett said.
Barrett said while many were elated Floyd Bennett Field was reopening, peak spring migration season came and went over the last few weeks.
“Even if the buses absolutely could not go anywhere else, why shut down the entire park?” Barrett told THE CITY. “I think this is what puzzled everyone the most. The buses took up only a tiny fraction of the park’s space. Birders would not have minded walking around them.”
Beach Return Unclear
Field regular Adriann Musson, 71, said she has “mixed feelings” about the reopening, noting COVID-19 killed four of her fellow gardeners.
“It scares me,” she added. “We have a lot of elderly people at the garden. I urge anybody who shows up to Floyd Bennett Field to please wear a mask and social distance.”
Ling told THE CITY that the National Park Service will take a “phased approach” to reopening Floyd Bennett Field, but didn’t specify what activities will return next.
“Much will depend on how things progress with the pandemic,” Ling said.
She added that Gateway is following guidance from federal, state and local authorities. She urged visitors to go to Gateway’s website for the latest updates.
Meanwhile, there’s no word yet on whether National Park Service beaches at Jacob Riis Park and Great Kills Park will open for swimming this summer. Ling said the feds will follow de Blasio’s lead.
“When New York City begins to allow swimming at its city beaches, Gateway will follow and bring on lifeguards for Riis Park Beach and Great Kills Park Beach,” she said.
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