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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Urban Gadabout: Jamaica Bay, here I come!

See below for information about the Jamaica Bay Ecology Cruise leaving from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, on June 24.

by Ken

Some years back I had the pleasure of providing overnight accommodations to a friend who had a layover in New York on his journey from the Midwest abroad, and because he'd never been in the city, I went to the airport to meet him and drag him all the way back to my place in Washington Heights -- not quite as long a distance as you could have within the five boroughs of NYC, but a long distance anyways.

The Air Train was up and running by then, providing -- for the first time! -- easy access from JFK to the Howard Beach station of the A train for the long trip back to my place, but I still feel kind of bad about what I did. Instead of doing the logical thing and planting us on the Manhattan-bound platform, I dragged my poor friend to the opposite platform, from which the A train begins what I consider an amazing trip across Jamaica Bay to the Rockaway peninsula.

I think of this as one of the amazing rail journeys a person can make for the price of a subway fare. I do it at least a couple of times a year, even if I have no desire actually to be in the Rockaways. I realized, though, that my friend had no interest in this little ocean voyage by rail, or in my labored efforts to explain the geography of our journey. I suppose it was understandable that his mind was more wrapped up in the long and laborious trip still ahead of him, and the several months he would be spending in his remote destination.

I thought about that day when I took my most recent trip across Jamaica Bay, but for the first time not all the way across the bay. At the Broad Channel station, the next stop after Howard Beach, I was getting off to meet a tour group led by the incomparable Justin Ferate, which would begin with a walk through the community of Howard Beach -- an extremely right-wing neighborhood with a heavy concentration of police and firefighters -- as the start of a mile-and-a-half walk to the visitor center of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. As many times as I've made the train crossing of Jamaica Bay, I never had any idea there even was such a destination.

I was caught short again when some of my fellow tour-group members not only had never done the Jamaica Bay train ride but really didn't even know where they were. They had followed Justin's instructions (in some cases never having set foot on an A train before) and arrived at the designated subway station and found the designated meeting place, but the rest was a mystery to them.

Jamaica Bay has always been a mystery to me, but not that kind of mystery. I've always been a compulsive map-reader, and when my family moved to New York when I was 12, and I began to become obsessed with the map of NYC, my eyes were riveted by that enormous expanse of bay bounded by the coasts of Brooklyn, "mainland" Queens, and the Rockaways. So when I saw that Justin was doing a walking tour of the Wildlife Refuge, I got my check in the mail immediately. And it was a terrific afternoon tramping around the most accessible portions of the refuge guided by Don Riepe, director of the Northeast Chapter of the American Littoral Society, and the enormously capable and charming Elizabeth, who works with Don.

It was a wonderful but exhausting afternoon, and I'm going to share something with "Urban Gadabout" readers which I somehow managed not to mention to readers of my DownWithTyranny "Sunday Classics" posts. (I'm figuring there isn't much overlap between the readerships, even making the large and presumptuous assumption that either has any readership.)

I've written several posts now based on the New York Concert Artists series of "Evenings of Piano Concerti," including today's, and while it's true that most of what interested me had already happened in the first three concerts, I never got around to mentioning that I blew off the fourth and final one, because that Saturday I would have had to go straight from the Jamaica Bay outing to Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church on Manhattan's West Side, with possibly time to stop at a conveniently located branch of my gym to shower. And the next day I had walking tours scheduled first in the Bronx (the second walk in Jack Eichenbaum's terrific Municipal Art Society series of South Bronx walks, which began in March with Mott Haven and concludes June 24 with Morrisania) and then in Brooklyn (the New York Transit Museum tour of several historic subway stations, which I wrote about recently).

There's more to that story, including tales of a number of other upcoming events around the city, but I'm going to leave that for sometime soon, maybe even tomorrow, in order to pass on news that Don and Elizabeth shared with us before we left the Wildlife Refuge.
June 24 - Jamaica Bay Sunset Cruises (3pm-6pm)

Leave from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn aboard the "Golden Sunshine" for a narrated tour of Jamaica Bay. Learn about the history, ecology, wildlife and management of the refuge and see egrets, herons, osprey, peregrine falcon, terns, shorebirds and waterfowl. Cost: $45 includes tour, wine & cheese, fruit, drink, snacks. Call (718) 318-9344; e-mail: You can also make payment here. (With Gateway NRA and NYC Audubon.)

You may have noticed that the date is the same as Jack Eichenbaum's walk through Morrisania in the Bronx. Yes, once again, as with both previous installments in Jack's Bronx series, I'm headed straight from there to Brooklyn!

More about upcoming walking tours of Jack's, and some other tantalizing events, in the next installment.

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