“Take a trip to the dreamy new Bayswater Point Park, a cool, leafy peninsula at the foot of Mott Avenue in Far Rockaway, Queens,” The New York Times rhapsodized in the bygone year 1996. “The sun shimmers over the irregular prongs of Jamaica Bay, and distant jumbo jets taxi at Kennedy Airport far across the water, like elephants on the veldt, a mesmerizing sight.”
The tin elephants may still roam the asphalt veldt, but the urban safari-ist must find a new vantage point from which to observe them. Bayswater Point, one of only five state parks in the city, closed Monday, in the same spasmic budget contraction, announced in February, that shut or will shut 58 parks and historic sites around the state.
A 12-acre swatch of beachfront, wetlands and woodlands facing the marshy islands of Jamaica Bay, the Bayswater property is prime habitat for nesting and migrating birds. Butterfly hunters have tracked the elusive Delaware Skipper there. A Daily News article on the closing in March quoted a fisherman who had hooked striped bass, blues, porgies and blackfish there.
“Despite the fact that it’s been a relatively neglected park in the city,” said Glenn Phillips, executive director of NYC Audubon, “it remains an important habitat for wildlife and a unique piece of New York City’s natural heritage. It’s a sad state that we’re in that these parks have to close.”
NYC Audubon has run beach cleanups in recent years to tidy the nuptial beds of the zillions of horseshoe crabs that mate along the park’s mucky shores and was planning one for this year. State officials said they did not know if Audubon would be able to return.
The closing of Bayswater Point, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation says, saves the state, currently facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, a grand total of $5,500 a year. (The whole program of closings, including that of Trump State Park, will save a total of about $6 million). Bayswater Point will remain a nature preserve.
One of the city’s other state parks, Riverbank State Park, built above the sewage plant on the Hudson River in Harlem, is also feeling the budget axe. Operating hours are being reduced, the outdoor swimming pool will not open this year, and classes and events are being eliminated.
Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for the state parks system, said that the cutbacks were made based on visitation rates, costs and revenue. “We acknowledge right up front that this an imperfect system,” she said. “We’re in the business of running parks, not closing them.”