Over 40 years after Gateway National Recreation Area was established by Congress, the National Parks Service has laid out a “new vision” for the future of the park in a newly released general management plan and environmental impact statement.
However, there is some debate among park advocates as to whether the plan includes too many recreational projects and not enough environmental preservation and protection programs.
The NPS is still a few weeks away from finalizing its desired course of action, known as “Alternative B,” regarding the sprawling 27,025 acre park, but according to the general management plan, numerous land- and water-based recreational activities such as bicycle and hiking trails, camping and kayaking will be provided.
The American Littoral Society’s Northeast Chapter president Don Riepe believes the plan isn’t focused enough on environmental preservation and enhanced recreation has the potential to harm the park’s delicate ecosystem.
“We’re concerned about resource protection and enhancement more than an active push for recreation,” Riepe said. “We want a better balance to make sure the park is protecting its resources.
“Camping has been going on in the park for 25 years. They want to expand it,” he continued. “But they will expand it at what expense? We should be improving and creating habitats.”
While Riepe notes that an enhanced public presence in the park, which includes the greater Jamaica Bay area and sections of Staten Island and Sandy Hook, NJ, may very well lead to more people becoming environmental activists, he wishes it was the more nature-oriented “Alternative C” that was chosen as the course of action.
“Management should be science driven instead of just promoting the park. We want to make sure they’re not loving the park to death,” he said. “We wanted the alternative that promoted the bay and provided recreation but within the framework of proper resource management.”
Gateway superintendant Jennifer Nersesian said Wednesday that only one project to be done within the park has been laid out as of now, and that any planned project, recreation or otherwise, has yet to be fully developed.
However, Nersesian emphasized the NPS’ passion for preserving the park’s ecological structure.
“I think resource protection is an essential part of our mission in any scenario,” Nersesian said. “By bringing people into the park to let them experience those resources, that will create a whole new generation of stewards that will help us preserve those resources.”
According to Nersesian, an environmental assessment of the West Pond breach, caused by Hurricane Sandy, will begin in late June or early July, with the purpose of the study being to decide whether the breach is worth repairing.
“There are some things we want to get started right off the bat,” she said.
While Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers president Dan Mundy Sr., like Riepe, preferred Alternative C to the course of action NPS chose, he still expects the positives that may come from the plan to greatly outweigh any potential negatives.
“I’m optimistic that the plan as presented will be workable and that environmentally sensitive areas can be preserved from human impact,” Mundy said. “It’s going to give us an opportunity to educate people on the assets of the park and how to protect it. I think the education part of bringing people in can be very useful.”
The general management plan comes 35 years, advances in technology and a devastating hurricane after the previous plan was implemented, such aspects that require that new vision, according to the NPS’ executive summary.
“Gateway needs a new GMP now because new issues and ideas have emerged in recent years that the 1979 GMP does not address because they were not anticipated when the plan was prepared,” the summary reads. “None of the recent NPS policies related to management and planning for all national parks units are reflected in the 1979 GMP.”
Nersesian said most of the funding for the various future projects will come from the federal level, with any additional funds coming from “outside partners,” depending on the project.