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gi self portrait


So my favorite spot in the entire city is open again.

Governors Island wasn’t even a place I could go when I first moved here back in 1988 – it was still a Coast Guard base back then.  But then it closed in 1996, and stayed in a weird sort of limbo for five years or so; there’s a nationally-landmarked fort on one end of the island, so someone had to maintain it, but the other end had some nondescript buildings no one wanted, so it wasn’t enough to justify the whole island being taken over.  The back-and-forth went on until 2003, just long enough for all the buildings to get a properly picturesque level of decay before New York City took it over, opening it up as a seasonal park; the ferryboats to get you there only run from Memorial Day through to the end of October, and at first they only ran on weekends.  Last year they started running every day.

I think I first went out in September of 2010, and fell in total love with the place.  It sits smack in the middle of New York harbor, with amazing views of Lower Manhattan on one side, Brooklyn on another, and the Statue of Liberty off to the south.  Back then the  there was a tiny picnic area on the southern tip, with a few freestanding hammocks scattered throughout; I was there on September 11th that year, and managed to snag a hammock and spent a long afternoon lying there, rereading E.B. White’s This Is New York and gazing at the Statue of Liberty.  I got back a bit sooner in the summer in 2011, bringing my bike that time and exploring a bit – peering through the windows of old officers’ houses at the north end, exploring the forts, and doing laps on my bike, free from the need to dodge cars.  I also got a kick out of how some of the old buildings were being repurposed into arts spaces,  with other pop-up public art projects scattered across the island – a mini reading room here, a minigolf course there…

More and more stuff has been added over the years.  There’s a small boutique that opens a pop-up shop out of one of the houses each year, the New York Historical Society has been getting into the act, and twice a summer there’s a jazz party which lures people in 1920’s cosplay. There’s a vintage rules baseball club that uses a corner the old parade grounds for its home games, and there’s even a small teaching farm with an active vegetable patch, a flock of chickens and a huge composting system.

My kayak club has made a few trips back and forth; paddling from Red Hook out around the island and back is a decently low-level adventure, taking just a couple hours or so, depending on how heavy the current is running along the west side.  We also once were specially commissioned by the farm to ferry some of their vegetables to the mainland.  Mainly it was just a photo op, but about ten of us made up a small flotilla of kayaks who paddled over to the island, where we were met by a team of people armed with boxes of kale and Swiss chard and a lot of bungee cords and they strapped the boxes to our prows, and we paddled back across to Red Hook, where a lone guy took pictures of us all storming ashore and then they gave us half the food.  We’ve also made regular trips for the annual City of Water Day, with some of the club opting to stay overnight – it’s the only time the park allows people to camp out each year, and you have to be part of a pre-approved boat club to do so.  The one year I did, we paddled across in the morning, our gear carefully stationed in our kayaks through the day; we gathered with the other clubs in the late afternoon, all of us patiently waiting for the last of the day trippers to leave.  When the last ferry pulled away, and we all started unpacking our gear, the most insane stuff started coming out of everyone’s boats – huge coolers, entire cases of beer, a whole slackline set….I swear I saw one group had managed to smuggle on an entire roast pig.   Technically we were also supposed to stay in one spot, but I managed to slip past the ranger and had a long moonlit walk across the empty parade ground.

The southern half of the park is undergoing a major renovation, and that first tiny park I went to was one of the first things to go – but they’ve moved the hammocks up to a new spot, planting a score of trees around them.  But the trees are a little too short still and the demand for hammocks has always been a little too great, so last year I hinted loudly that I wanted a hammock for Christmas – specifically so I could pack it on my trips and find my own quiet place to string it up.

I swear to God I would live out here if it were zoned for that.  Sadly, it isn’t – there’s a little problem of the plumbing system not having any potable water, and most of the residence buildings being just too damn old.  Plus I’d have to take some kind of ferry boat back to the mainland for 99.9% of anything.  But it could have the plumbing switched right back on and a couple of shops and services hooked right back up, and I would quite happily adjust to having to row to shore for shopping, I promise.


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