Best Of

Best worst national park


This past spring, the Gateway National Recreation Area was rated the country’s worst national park of 28 rated by the National Parks Conservation Association. It’s a bad rap—I mean, whaddaya want from a park that abuts Brooklyn, Queens, and JFK? Gateway’s 26,000 acres include Jamaica Bay, Jacob Riis Park, and Fort Tilden on the Rockaways, three little spots on Staten Island, and Sandy Hook in New Jersey. Established only in 1972, in attempt to protect not only the bay’s wildlife and grasses but also such landmarks as historic Floyd Bennett Field and Riis Park, Gateway has a meaningless name, and it was set up too far along in the megalopolis game to make much of a difference. But at least it offers a little protection from the huge city that encircles it. And there are oases of charm. Fort Tilden may be ramshackle, but the Rockaway Artists Alliance puts its buildings to use. Floyd Bennett Field was the city’s first big airport and the busiest military hub in the U.S. during World War II. It sits fallow now, most of its huge hangars vacant and its funky little museum mostly empty as well. People still swim at Riis Park, and they still look for wildlife at Jamaica Bay. You can go there in the middle of a typical city day and see tall grass and hear birds chirping.