On June 29, Gateway National Recreation Area inaugurated 35 new campsites—a totally unremarkable event except that the sites are located at Floyd Bennett Field, a defunct municipal airport in the southeast corner of Brooklyn. By 2013, park officials hope to raise that number to 90 and eventually offer as many as 600 campsites, which cost $20 to $40 per night and can be booked online. And no, this is not a ploy to get the homeless out of Manhattan.
“We want to make New York the leading example of what we can do with urban parks,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said during a June visit to the site.
If other urban campgrounds around the country—including Rob Hill in San Francisco; Oak Mountain State Park near Birmingham, Alabama; and Greenbelt Park in the D.C. suburbs—are anything like Floyd Bennett Field, they’ll offer an ice rink, a model-airplane runway, and miniature golf.
And while the concept is easy to poke fun at, the campsites themselves aren’t bad—especially G31, which is tucked away in the foliage. The idea isn’t so much to offer an urban wilderness experience as to suggest the existence of wilderness at all.
“Campers aren’t going to Yellowstone,” says Jennifer Bethea, a park ranger, “but maybe after camping here they will.” And that’s just it: if this unlikely getaway can somehow make the inner-city residents who are its most frequent visitors feel more comfortable in their national parks, then it’s done its job.