A new trail shows off Marine Park’s wild side
Brooklyn’s biggest park has a new two-mile loop trail and more than 7,000 new native trees and shrubs.
On Sunday, State Assemblymember Jaime Williams, officials from the city Parks Department and three conservancy groups celebrated the completion of a four-year fix-up at 798-acre Marine Park.
Marine Park, which is nearly as large as Manhattan’s Central Park, holds ecological significance in part because of its coastal maritime forests, which are a habitat for migrating birds.
The opening of the new trail is “a real milestone for this park,” said First Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Alex Zablocki, executive director of Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, called it “the jewel of New York City.”
Zablocki’s organization collaborated with the Natural Areas Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy and the Parks Department on the now-completed Marine Park improvement effort. Visitors can access the new loop by entering the park from Gerritsen and Seba avenues in Gerritsen Beach.
More than 400 volunteers worked on the project, adding new borders to pathways, evening out their surfaces and installing trail markers.
The job also included the removal of 14 cars that had been illegally dumped in the park.
The health of Marine Park, which is located on the westernmost inlet of Jamaica Bay, has been threatened by people who set fires, commit other acts of vandalism and ride all-terrain vehicles.
Flora and fauna
The Parks Department’s retired chief naturalist Mike Feller gave visitors a tour of the new trail after the ribbon-cutting.
Feller, who grew up in the area and has been a lifetime visitor of the park, handed tour-goers aromatic leaves from plants such as mugwort and bayberry so they could crush and sniff them.
Mugwort grows where construction rubble was used as landfill in past decades, Feller said. Tall grasses with plumes grow where the landfill was household trash.
Part of the time, tour-goers walked along the shoreline of Gerritsen Creek. Feller pointed out birds such as an osprey, a cormorant, an oyster catcher and black skimmers. He plucked a fiddler crab off the sand to show us. The creature was so tiny I wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise.
The group turned and walked inland through shrubs and grasses. A yellow warbler sang. Feller spotted a praying mantis’s egg case attached to a twig and told the group that a praying mantis can eat a hummingbird.
The walk was the first event in the Jamaica Bay Natural Areas Tour Series, which the Natural Areas Conservancy and the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy are jointly presenting.
Pathways and playfields
Part of Marine Park’s Gerritsen Creek shoreline was not included on Feller’s tour.
Salt Marsh Nature Center is in this part of the park. The center offers educational programs and also serves as a community center.
To find this area, go to Avenue U at East 33rd Street in Marine Park (the neighborhood).
A network of paths that has been open to the public for some time runs through picturesque salt marshes and grasslands.
Marine Park also has recreation facilities — including basketball, tennis and bocce courts. There are ball fields, a golf course, playgrounds — and even an area dedicated to flying model airplanes.
In 1917, Frederic B. Pratt and Brooklyn philanthropist Alfred T. White offered the city a tract of land that became the original Marine Park, the Parks Department’s website says. Pratt later became the president of Pratt Institute.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.