Explore Geology
geology fieldnotes title


National Recreation Area

New York/New Jersey

cover of park brochure

park geology subheading
Photo of man fishing on coast at Gateway
Gateway National Recreation Area, New York / New Jersey

A Park at Your Doorstep
At the entrance to the great New York-New Jersey estuary, two arms of land stretch across the water toward each other, forming a natural gateway through which millions of immigrants entered a new world. This dramatic approach provided inspiration for the name of the national park site—Gateway National Recreational Area.

One of these land arms is Sandy Hook, the New Jersey unit of Gateway; the other is Rockaway Peninsula in New York, where the park's Breezy Point district is located. The other Gateway units, Staten Island and Jamaica Bay, lie within the arms. Together the four units contain 26,000 acres of land and water— ocean beaches, dunes, wooded uplands, bays, a holly forest, a wildlife refuge, two forts, two historic airfields, and the Nation's oldest lighthouse in continuous operation. Besides its natural and historic features, Gateway provides outstanding opportunities for recreation, such as swimming, fishing, basketball, softball, football, soccer, and jogging. Or, you may wish to do nothing but relax, and let the noise and bustle drain away as you watch birds fly by and waves roll in. Gateway is a place for both activity and relaxation.

That these parklands have been preserved in the midst of one of the world's largest urban areas is the result of people's determination to preserve open spaces for future generations. Former military bases have become part of Gateways parkland. Other areas were preserved because citizens decided that they did not want scarce recreation space lost to developers. Large areas of the park were donated by the City of New York and the States of New York and New Jersey. Responding to these efforts, Congress created Gateway in 1972 as one of the first large urban parks to be managed by the National Park Service.

As you explore the park, let your imagination go wild and try to envision what this land looked like when European settlers arrived in the early 17th century. Since then, the lands and waters of Gateway have been altered drastically by humans. Algonquin Indian encampments and villages, which numbered about 100, gave way to farms, forts, warehouses, and mills powered by the wind and tides. As New York and urban New Jersey grew, docks were built along the shores, and wetlands were filled to support roads, houses, factories, and airports.

Many birds and other animals disappeared. The waters became contaminated, the air polluted. Fish populations decreased, and huge oyster and clamming industries shut down. Some waters became unsafe for swimming. It was a situation that boded ill for the future.

But love for the natural world and healthy outdoor recreation did not die:

  • In Jamaica Bay in 1953, a wildlife refuge was established through the efforts of Robert Moses and developed through the dedication of horticulturist Herbert Johnson.

  • At Sandy Hook, the rare holly forest was preserved through careful management by the New Jersey State Park Commission.

  • In the Rockaways in New York, citizens halted the building of a highrise complex to preserve the natural quality of a rare stretch of ocean beach. Then, in the late 1960s, came a nationwide clamor for cleaner air, clean water, and the preservation of natural, open spaces.

The two related efforts—restoring the quality of the metropolitan environment and establishing Gateway's character—add up to an enormous task. Much has been done, yet years of effort lie ahead. Emission controls help produce cleaner air. Cities have undertaken the long, hard job of cleaning up waterways by improving sewage treatment systems, already resulting in cleaner water and better fishing. Since the park opened in 1974, there has been an on-going cleanup of beaches and community involvement. Through educational programs at the park, thou-sands of schoolchildren have discovered Gateway's historic sites and natural beauty. As in times past, Gateway offers a new world—a gateway to open spaces, personal adventure, and enrichment.

Exploring Gateway
The four units of Gateway offer many opportunities for active and leisurely recreation, such as exploring the natural world and visiting historic sites. The National Park Service continuously changes and expands its programs to meet the needs of its vast audience. Because programs and schedules change frequently, be sure to contact the unit headquarters before setting out to attend any particular event.

Breezy Point Unit
From early spring through fall, rangers lead thousands of schoolchildren in explorations along ocean and bay beaches to discover the fascinating world of marine life. Fort Tilden, a defense point for New York City intermittently since the War of 1812, is open to the public for tours on weekends. Special programs for groups are available on request about the history of the Rockaway peninsula. Summer programs at Breezy Point include visits to Fort Tilden by organized groups of young people and senior citizens for games, environmental education, crafts, gardening, picnicking, and swimming. Fall and spring bring such special events to the mall at Riis Park as craft shows and theatrical performances. For information write: Fort Tilden, NY 11695, or call (718) 474-4600.

Jamaica Bay Unit
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is most exciting during the spring nesting season and the fall migration when thousands of ducks and geese on the Atlantic Flyway stop over on the two refuge ponds. During these seasons, the refuge provides programs for school classes on weekday mornings and for the public in the evenings and on weekends. Dead Horse Bay provides school groups and the public with a living laboratory for exploring the natural environment.

One of the largest segments of the Jamaica Bay Unit is Floyd Bennett Field, which was New York's first municipal airport. Although it did not succeed commerciallY, it contributed to the development of aviation as the takeoff point for many record-breaking flights by such pilots as Wiley Post, Howard Hughes Laura Ingalls, Col. Roscoe Turner, Wrongway Corrigan, and John Glenn. Today, the field offers recreation programs for organized groups, community gardening, and educational programs for teachers and children through the Gateway Environmental Study Center, which is run cooperatively with the New York City Board of Education. For information write: Floyd Bennett Field Brooklyn, NY 11234, or call (718) 338-3799.

Staten Island Unit
Swimming and fishing are centered at Great Kills Park in the usually calm waters of Lower New York and Raritan bays. Northeast of the former bathhouse, a peat bog reaches into the bay. Great Kills offers athletic fields, a model airplane field, walking trails, and educational programs to the public. Environmental field trips are available to school classes during the spring and fall. Bird walks, geology walks, star watches, and Monarch butterfly walks are offered weekends for the public. In the summer, there are discovery walks over woodland, grassland, dunes, and beach trails for organized groups and drop-in visitors. The center of Crooke's Point is being allowed to return to a natural state and is preserved as a habitat for plants, birds, and other animals, as well as one of the Staten Island stopping places for Monarch butterflies in their annual migration to and from Mexico.

Miller Field has a roller hockey rink and is a site for all kinds of ballgames. Hoffman and Swinburne Islands in lower New York Bay are currently undeveloped and inaccessible to public use. For information write: 26 Miller Field, Staten Island, NY 10306 (718) 351 -8700.

Sandy Hook Unit
Sand dunes protect portions of the Sandy Hook uplands against seawinds and enable the growth of plantlife. The growth culminates in a holly forest unsurpassed on the eastern seaboard. Besides its natural aspects, Sandy Hook also offers many historic sites. The lighthouse, which dates from 1764, is the Nation's oldest in continuous operation. Fort Hancock is the last of several forts erected on Sandy Hook to protect the shipping channels into New York harbor. Here also is one of the first stations of the U.S. Lifesaving Service.

Tours of Fort Hancock and natural areas, such as the holly forest, are offered in the summer, along with lifesaving demonstrations, talks about early lifesaving methods, and puppet shows for children. Summer also brings special performance events and lectures at the Fort Hancock post theater or auditorium. During the rest of the year, tours, presentations, and puppet shows are offered. The park also affords a wide range of educational field trips, classes, and workshops for teachers. Four campsites are available to youth groups by reservation. Sandy Hook is a popular destination for bicyclists and hikers. Birdwatching is exceptional, with more than 300 species sighted. In the spring and summer, you may see the endangered osprey, several pairs of which nest here. For information write: P.O. Box 530, Fort Hancock, NJ 07732, orcall (908) 872-0115.

park maps subheading

The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.

For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.

photo album subheading

A geology photo album has not been prepared for this park.

For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.

books, videos, cds subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.

Please visit the Geology Books and Media webpage for additional sources such as text books, theme books, CD ROMs, and technical reports.

Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
ISBN 0-393-92407-6
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout

The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.

geologic research subheading


For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.

The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.

A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.

selected links subheading

NPS Geology and Soils Partners

NRCS logoAssociation of American State Geologists
NRCS logoGeological Society of America
NRCS logoNatural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
USGS logo U.S. Geological Survey

teacher feature subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for any park-specific geology education programs or activities.

General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.

For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.
updated on 01/04/2005  I   http://www.nature.nps.gov/Geology/parks/gate/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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