A winter hike on Marine Park’s nature trails
The wilderness is a wonderful thing — especially if you can get there on the B3 bus.
Marine Park has a nature preserve whose hiking trails make you feel like you’re far, far away from Brooklyn. In truth, you’re on Avenue U, surrounded by a busy residential neighborhood.
If you need to clear your head after too much holiday partying and/or stress, a stroll through the Marine Park Preserve’s grasslands should do the trick.
There are two trail entrances on Avenue U in the neighborhood of Marine Park. The one near the Burnett Street B3 bus stop leads right to the edge of Gerritsen Creek’s shoreline.
It’s thrilling to get so close to the water. The grasses that surround you are subtle shades of wintry brown. They rustle in the breeze.
If you’ve made summer visits to the Marine Park Preserve, you’ll recall the grasses are lush green at that time of year. The place looks quite different in the winter — but it’s wonderfully picturesque, even when the sky’s a grim gray and it seems like the sun might never shine again in Brooklyn.
When you stand on the shoreline, you can see wooden pilings sticking out of the water.
They are all that remain of a mill for grinding grain into flour that was probably built by Dutch immigrant Hugh Gerritsen in 1645. He dammed up the creek so its tides would turn the mill wheel.
Gerritsen’s Mill, as later generations called it, stood for almost 300 years. Vandals burned it down in 1935.
The grasslands and saltmarsh surrounding Gerritsen Creek are part of 798-acre Marine Park. Brooklyn’s largest park also has a wide array of spots for activities including golf, baseball, cricket, bocce, cycling and canoeing and kayaking.
In November, State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, City Councilmember Alan Maisel and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams announced they’ve lined up a total of $11.1 million to restore Marine Park’s inner oval and fix up one of its playgrounds.
Marine Park is situated on the westernmost inlet of Jamaica Bay. Gerritsen Creek is a freshwater creek that’s partly located underground. A portion of it that’s north of Avenue U was turned into an underground storm drain around 1920, according to the city’s Parks Department.
The underground portion of the creek brings fresh water from inland to the saltmarsh. The fresh water enables a much wider variety of organisms to thrive than would be the case if the saltmarsh were bathed only in salt water, a pamphlet published by the Parks Department’s Natural Resources Group in 1986 says.
You can get a great view of the creek and the surrounding terrain on a hiking trail you enter from Avenue U beside Marine Park’s Salt Marsh Nature Center.
There’s a green metal walkway with a circular observation area. It’s identified on the Parks Department’s hiking trails map as the Tidal Marsh Bridge Lookout.
Saltmarsh creatures in Marine Park Preserve include soft-shelled clams, grass shrimp, fiddler crabs and ribbed mussels, the Parks Department’s pamphlet says.
The types of waterfowl that live in the marsh change with the seasons. The ones that spend the winter here include greater and lesser scaups (both of these are diving ducks), ruddy ducks, mute swans, Canada geese and loons.
While you’re hiking on the trail that starts near the Salt Marsh Nature Center, you’ll notice a path that leads you to the edge of Gerritsen Creek. There, you’ll find a wooden platform with a bench for quiet contemplation of the serene scenery.
When you’re walking along the hiking trail that starts near the Salt Marsh Nature Center, you’ll see tall poles where ospreys build nests.
These birds of prey can dive feet-first from heights of 150 feet to catch live fish. Female ospreys have wingspans of up to five feet; male ospreys, which are smaller than the females, have wingspans of up to nearly four feet.
The birds can close their nostrils voluntarily to keep out water when they dive — and they have reversible toes, which means they can slide their toes back and forth, the better to grip the fish they catch.
There is also a new two-mile Marine Park hiking trail you can enter from Gerritsen and Seba avenues in Gerritsen Beach.
The trail opened in May after a four-year fix-up by the Parks Department, the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, the Natural Areas Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy. The work included the planting of more than 7,000 new native trees and shrubs and the removal of 14 illegally dumped cars.