Gantry Plaza Park gains six acres

The scent of freshly cut grass, a cool breeze from the East River and breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline provided a fitting backdrop as officials unveiled a new six-acre section of Gantry Plaza State Park on July 1.

“Today we celebrate the continued transformation of what was once an underutilized industrial site into a beautiful park, providing access to the East River, a tranquil community gathering place and striking reminders of the site’s industrial past,” said State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash.

Gantry Plaza State Park is located on the site of an old dock facility and it still shows signs of its industrial past. The waterfront setting contains two restored Long Island Rail Road gantry cranes, which used to lift railroad cars off barges and onto land.

When the 2 1/2-acre park opened in 1998, it contained picnic tables, a playground, four piers, basketball and handball courts and a dog run. The new section, which more than doubles the size of the park, formerly housed a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant. The enormous sign advertising the beverage is still present today.

Residents turned out in full force to see the expanded parkland, which includes a waterfront promenade, open lawn, athletic field and reconstructed cove and wetlands.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” said Long Island City resident Mickey Tarpinian. “The views are spectacular.”

“I want to play here almost every day over the summer,” added Tarpinian’s daughter, Lindsey. “It looks like a good place to play sports, like baseball and soccer, because the grass is really nice.”

Heloisa Evangelista, another area resident, watched as her 2-year-old son explored some of the park’s wetlands. “The green areas are great for the kids to run around,” she said.

In addition to the botanical boost, the park includes several new neon orange hammocks.

“When was the last time any one of us swung in a hammock when you could also look at the skyline of New York City?” Ash asked. “This is a brand-new wonderful experience for all of the citizens here.”

One of those citizens, Christopher Bourell of L.I.C., climbed into a hammock to read a book.

“It’s a little stiff,” he said. “It could be a little more comfortable but it seems safe enough.”

The expansion of Gantry Plaza State Park is part of a 40-acre project by the Empire State Development Corporation subsidiary Queens West Development Corporation aimed at invigorating the Long Island City waterfront. In addition to parkland, the Queens West project will include residential units, retail space and two public schools.

“Through the revitalization of the Queens West waterfront we are generating new businesses, job opportunities, housing and improving the quality of life for the people of Queens,” Gov. David Paterson said in a statement. “We hope that everyone will come and spend some time at Gantry Plaza State Park this summer.”

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