It sits on the beach at the mouth of Shellbank Basin like a ruin — a relic marking the site where something action-packed took place. It can be seen by people driving along Cross Bay Boulevard — a curious piece of flotsam that has evolved into a local landmark: Howard Beach’s very own shipwreck.
The boat that lies on the beach at Frank M. Charles Park wasn’t left there by its owner. It washed up there last month, probably a victim of Hurricane Sandy that found its way to the shore months later.
No one knows whose boat it is. The assumption is that it came loose from a dock along Shellbank Basin or nearby Hawtree Creek during Sandy, sank and bobbled back and forth in the tide before coming to rest on the shore. Some more fantastical theories among nearby residents are that it came all the way from the Rockaways, Staten Island or even New Jersey. A thick layer of mud and barnacles covers most of the numbers on the boat and the inside is trashed. As the tide goes out, water drips from the back of the craft. In the sand, footprints inform passersby that there have been visitors.
The 15-foot boat washed up in late January and still has not been moved. It joins a bevy of other pieces of trash and debris that have found a home in the neighborhood’s largest recreation area. The scene is a familiar one for residents living near Charles Park, who have had their fill of the trashy situation there.
“The park is a mess,” said one local resident. “But it’s always been a mess.”
During Hurricane Sandy, the park was under more than 8 feet of water. The storm left behind debris and seaweed stuck in the fences surrounding the baseball field and tennis courts. Along the park’s pathways, cars, pulled out by the tide, sat scattered. The cars are gone, but some litter remains: empty water bottles, potato chip bags, cups, plates and a chair. Discarded plastic bags and other trash have collected along the fence in the corner of the baseball fields.
Local residents and parkgoers have complained to anyone who listens, but to no avail. Dorothy McCloskey, president of Friends of Charles Park said the hurricane undid years of slow progress in making the park better.
“Twenty years of work went out the door in Sandy,” she said.
The beached boat is only one of many problems inside the park since the hurricane, McCloskey explained. Numerous trees were destroyed while some still are in a precarious situation. Graffiti and litter are rampant in the park, most notably in the tennis courts, which were just redone a few years ago and were hit hard by Sandy’s storm surge.
“There’s no police presence around the park,” McCloskey said. “That needs to be stepped up.”
As far as the trash and graffiti, the NYC Parks Department won’t come and help. It’s not the city’s responsibility. Charles Park does not belong to the city. It is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and under the domain of the National Parks Service, making it federal land, and resources on that level are scarce and spread out among national parks nationwide.
“The problem is Charles Park has to compete for funds with Yosemite,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
And even then, the limited funding steered toward Gateway is usually reserved for the more heavily trafficked parts of the park, such as Riis Park in the Rockaways, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Marine Park in Brooklyn.
But McCloskey said she is optimistic federal money would come to help the park, especially after all the attention the New York shoreline has received after Sandy. She has been in touch with Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) who used to represent Howard Beach and still represents much of Jamaica Bay. The neighborhood and the park are now represented by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), whose district also includes all of Brooklyn’s Jamaica Bay shoreline, much of which is part of Gateway.
Jeffries said he expects some of the $348 million in the relief package approved by Congress last month to make its way to Gateway for reconstruction, but how much is still in question.
“We do not yet know exactly how much of the $348 million in the Sandy Relief Bill has been allocated to the National Park Service for construction [at Gateway],” he said. “However, it is a top priority of my office to make sure that Gateway National Park is provided with the funding necessary to rebuild successfully.”
McCloskey has also requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers examine building a bulkhead by the park, noting that the Corps is already working on marshland in the bay.
“There’s no bulkheading, there’s nothing there to help the park,” she said.
Protecting the shoreline with new infrastructure should be a priority, Jeffries added.
“Sandy devastated our neighborhoods, parks and businesses,” he said. “We must now rebuild in a smart and sustainable way that restores our quality of life and leaves our communities better equipped to withstand future storms.”
Whether or not federal money comes to the park’s aid, McCloskey is planning on reaching out to foundations to see if they could offer some help.
She said focusing on the park could provide a much-needed boost to community pride.
“It’s our only green space in Howard Beach and it’s the one thing that would be very uplifting for the spring if we can get it up and running again,” McCloskey said.