Jamaica Bay Institute

National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, Gateway National Recreation Area

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Salt marsh with New York City skyline in background

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  North Shore District

Overview and History

The North Shore District includes all the Gateway properties along the north shore of Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn. This District contains over 2,000 acres of open space and facilities at the former naval air base on Floyd Bennett Field, the historic pier and picnic areas of Canarsie Pier, as well as the nearby shore lands of Dead Horse Bay, Plumb Beach, and Bergen Beach.

Floyd Bennett Field
Floyd Bennett Field was dedicated in 1931 as New York City’s first municipal airport. During the pioneering days of aviation, famous aviators including Howard Hughes, Jacqueline Cochran and ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan, all used the field for their record-breaking flights. Converted to a naval air station in 1941, Floyd Bennett Field was an important military airfield during World War II.

Within the airfield's cultural landscape, 140 acres of grassland are maintained as open fields to provide important nesting and feeding habitat for grasshopper sparrows, meadowlarks, American kestrels and northern harriers. In 1985, park staff and volunteers from the Audubon Society planted native grasses and removed trees and shrubs to further restore native grassland habitat in the center of the Field.

In the northern most corner of Floyd Bennett Field, the North 40, ponds and trails were built with money taxpayers designated to “Return-a-Gift-to-Wildlife.” Birders, hikers, and wildlife all enjoy the habitats of the North 40 where you’d never know you were still in one of the largest cities in the world. Today on Floyd Bennett Field there are many remnants of the military era for visitors to explore, along with recreational opportunities and environmental education activities for area school children and adults.

Canarsie Pier
Canarsie Pier is located in Jamaica Bay along Brooklyn’s Belt Parkway. As far back as the seventeen hundreds there is evidence of the area being used by fisherman. In the 1900’s Canarsie Pier was a pleasure spot due to its recreational swimming, charter fishing, rowboat rentals, yacht club, summer bungalows, and floating bathhouse/dance pavilion and it was the focal point of the Jamaica Bay commercial fishing industry. Development of Canarsie Pier as it exists today was completed in 1926 and in 1973 it was incorporated into Gateway National Recreation Area. Today, this historic pier is a very popular spot for fisherman and picnickers. The area surrounding the pier contains a large grassy picnic area and children’s playground. The protected shoreline surrounding the pier supports valuable salt marsh habitat.

Dead Horse Bay
Strange as the name may sound, Dead Horse Bay is an area rich in cultural and natural history. During the seventeenth century Dutch settlers built mills to utilize the power derived from the changing tides to grind wheat into flour. A remaining millstone can still be found along the Millstone trail. From the nineteenth century to the twentieth century the area has been used in a variety of ways, including manufacturing fertilizer from the remains of dead animals, producing fish oil from the menhaden caught in the bay, and most recently a landfill for the disposal of New York City’s garbage. In 1926, the salt marshes surrounding Dead Horse Bay and the rest of Barren Island were filled and connected to the land mass of Brooklyn. Today school groups are taken to Dead Horse Bay on a regular basis to walk the Millstone trail, seine for a variety of fishes, and learn about the natural and cultural history of the area.

Plum Beach

West of Dead Horse Bay, Plumb Beach, formerly Plum Island until 1940 when Robert Moses filled in the island connecting it to Brooklyn. Squatters were evicted and the beach was closed in order to build the Belt Parkway. Today Gateway National Recreation Area manages the beach area but the parking lot is still owned by New York City. Plumb Beach offers vital habitat to threatened shorebirds, horseshoe crabs and a myriad of other wildlife in its variety of habitats including: tidal mud flats, low salt marsh areas, a tidal lagoon, a fragile dune system and several scattered woodland thickets. Recreation opportunities at Plumb Beach include: fishing, parasailing, and sunbathing.

Bergen Beach

The Bergen Beach property managed by Gateway NRA extends east from Floyd Bennett Field to Canarsie Pier. In 1905, the Percy Williams Amusement Park was opened and thirty-thousand visitors came to Bergen Island to enjoy a variety of attractions including a Ferris wheel, casino, and roller skating rink. Over the next decade, the masses came by trolley and ferry to play at what was called Bergen Beach. But in 1920 the pollution in Jamaica Bay and the popularity of Coney Island put an end to the amusement park. Today much of the area is the residential community of Bergen Beach surrounded by low salt marsh protected by the National Park Service. Included on this property is the Jamaica Bay Riding Academy, a concession that provides the public the opportunity to ride horses on trails and along the beachfront.
Experience Your America
Last updated: August 12, 2004
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