Gateway National Recreation Area Receives Lowest Natural Resource Grade from National Parks Group

Date:   May 9, 2007
Contact:   Alexander Brash, NPCA Northeast Regional Director, 212.617.2989
Shannon Andrea, NPCA Media Relations Manager, 202.454.3371

Gateway National Recreation Area Receives Lowest Natural Resource Grade from National Parks Group

Park Suffers From Historical Uses, Urban Pressures, and Lack of Support

New York, N.Y.—The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today released a report card that reveals Gateway National Recreation Area’s natural and cultural resources are in poor condition. While a collaborative public design competition moves forward to define a new vision for the park, this report card reveals that prior historical uses and urban pressures have negatively impacted Gateway’s resources for decades. Despite some inspiring elements such as Sandy Hook, Jamaica Bay’s Wildlife Refuge, and the remnant maritime forest at Fort Tilden, the park’s surrounding waters are still polluted, visitor services are limited, and the loss of native species is widespread.

“Gateway was created to bring the national park experience to our urban region, to serve as a recreational opportunity for our residents and a living classroom for our kids. However, it has failed to live up to its potential for more than 30 years,” said Alexander Brash, NPCA northeast regional director. “The park’s poor grades reflect both its historical past, as well as a lack of serious public investment since its creation.”

According to NPCA’s Center for State of the Parks report, Gateway’s natural resources score just 53 out of a possible 100, the lowest rating of 27 other national parks assessed to date. The poor conditions largely stem from historic land uses prior to Gateway’s establishment as a park, the ongoing pollution of the park’s surrounding waters, and a lack of adequate funding and staffing to protect the park. For example, the construction of JFK airport, the dredging for a port never built, and hundreds of other development projects around the shores of Jamaica Bay have resulted in the loss of thousands of acres of marshland. In addition, the bay’s edges have been hardened with concrete, cut off from public access, and littered with everything from coffee cups to cars.

The report indicates that waters surrounding the park, from Sandy Hook to Rockaway, are still inundated with treated and untreated sewage, floating trash, industrial waste, and toxic sediments. Many of the buildings, structures, and extensive paved areas that remain from its historical uses are now abandoned. They have neither been restored for historical interpretation, nor removed and replaced with either a natural landscape or recreational facilities. As a result, the historical natural habitats that disappeared long ago, have never been restored or creatively re-used for the benefit of the region’s residents and visitors.

“Letting thousands of acres with great potential for recreation to lie fallow is a sad waste,” said Brash. “Now is the time, as the Park Service prepares for its centennial in 2016 and as New Yorkers reach for a greener city by 2030, for our Congress, city, and state, to reinvest in Gateway and create an iconic national park that our region’s residents deserve and were promised.”

Gateway’s cultural resources score just a 46 out of a possible 100. With nearly 400 buildings and structures, many of which are seriously deteriorated and remain empty, park managers are hard pressed to preserve or restore them with very limited resources. When the park was created in 1972, many of the historical landscapes were not recognized for their cultural importance, and even then had not been maintained or preserved. With little new support since, many of the buildings have deteriorated beyond the point of restoration, and others continue to deteriorate as a result of under-funded maintenance needs.

In order to help define a vision for its future, in January, NPCA, along with its partners Van Alen Institute and Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, launched an international public design competition to create a new vision for Gateway. The competition is underwritten by The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. In June, competition winners will be announced, and then presented to the National Park Service for potential inclusion in the next planning phase of Gateway’s General Management Plan, which is scheduled for 2009. The competition is being managed online at:

Results of a public opinion poll conducted by Zogby International show that the majority of New York area residents desire an iconic national park in the region, but nearly half of them are unaware of and have never visited Gateway—a mere 50-minutes from Times Square. Area residents who have visited Gateway rate park facilities below average. The majority of City residents would prefer to travel there via mass transit, but most of Gateway is not currently connected to the New York subway system or PATH. Poll results are available online.

NPCA launched the landmark State of the Parks program in 2000 to assess the health of national parks across the country.  To view a copy of the full report, visit:



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