Here's a look at some statistics describing one of America's premier urban-oriented parks, Gateway National Recreation Area in New York/New Jersey.
Recreational visits in 2010. Gateway's attendance ranks fourth among national parks, exceeded only by Blue Ridge Parkway, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It's not hard to understand why Gateway is so popular. The park is in the day-tripper zone of America's largest urban concentration, does not charge admission fees, has good swimming beaches and mass recreation facilities, and offers high-quality natural area recreation and wildlife watching opportunities that are scarce in urban regions.
Visitation at Gateway's Jacob Riis park during a warm, sunny summer weekend. Created in the 1930s as a seaside recreation area for New York City residents, Riis Park has over one mile of sandy beach for swimming and sunbathing as well as a public pool, a pitch and putt golf course, and facilities for picnicking, volleyball, baseball, softball, basketball, football, rugby, paddleball, and handball.
Acreage of the park. Gateway is a comparatively small National Recreation Area, ranking 13th among the 18 National Recreation Area-designated units of the National Park System. Since two-thirds of the park (17,000 acres) is water covered, the overwhelming majority of Gateway's nearly 9 million annual visits is concentrated on less than 10,000 acres of land. Preventing overcrowding and attendant resource damage and loss of recreational quality poses tough challenges for park management, especially in the busy summer season.
Acreage of Gateway's Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, the only National Park Service-administered wildlife refuge in the National Park System. Due to its diverse habitat and vital stopover location on the Eastern Flyway Migration Route, Jamaica Bay is one of the most important birding areas in the Western Hemisphere (more than 325 bird species recorded).
Nude swimmers and sunbathers enjoying Sandy Hook's clothing-optional Gunnison Beach on some summer weekends.
Vehicle carrying capacity of Riis Park during summer (July 1 to September 7). Allowing entry to more vehicles than parking spaces can accommodate compromises visitor safety and causes damage to resources and facilities.
Age of the park's Sandy Hook Lighthouse, America's oldest continuously operating lighthouse.
Acreage of Gateway's 580-acre Great Kills Park consisting of land created many decades ago by filling Staten Island wetlands with urban trash and debris. The New York City Department of Parks began developing this land in the 1930s, opened it for public use in 1949, and transferred it to the National Park Service in 1972.
Acres of athletic fields at Gateway's Miller Field, a 187-acre former Army airfield on Staten island. Thousands gather to watch athletic competitions and use the biking, picnicking, and playground facilities.
Miles of shoreline in the park. Gateway's liberal supply of beaches, dunes, and wetlands goes a long way toward explaining its appeal to urbanites.
Daily hours of lifeguard protection (10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) each summer at the park's public swimming beaches. (Swimming is also permitted any time lifeguards are on duty for special events such as concerts and competitions.) Gateway's lifeguarded swimming beaches, which are some of the finest in New York/New Jersey, include: Riis Park Bays 1-14 in the Jamaica Bay Unit on Long Island; Great Kills Park on Staten Island, and North Beach and Areas C, D, E, and G (Gunnison) in the Sandy Hook Unit in New Jersey.
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Visitor centers and ranger/contact stations in Gateway, a park with multiple units and many entrance points. People visiting the Jamaica Bay Unit on Long Island are served by the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Contact Station, the William Fitz Ryan Visitor Center at Floyd Bennett Field (closed for renovation; reopening spring 2012), and a ranger station at the Floyd Bennett Field entrance. Visitors to the Staten Island Unit are served by the Fort Wadsworth Visitor Center as well as the Great Kills Park Contact Station and a ranger station at Miller Field. Sandy Hook visitors, who are currently being served by a temporary visitor center in the Lighthouse Keepers Quarters, will be served by the newly renovated Visitor Center at Spermaceti Cove, which is scheduled to reopen in April 2012.
Public campgrounds in the park. Floyd Bennett Field has campsites at the Tamarack, Goldenrod,Wiley Post (A and B), and Amelia Earhart campgrounds. Forty campsites, including 6 RV sites, were recently added.
Historic military installations and fortifications within Gateway National Recreation Area. Forts Hancock, Tilden and Wadsworth defended New York City and its Outer Harbor over the span of two centuries.