By John Burton
SANDY HOOK – People love and care for the Gateway National Recreation Area but feel that the federal government can do more to enhance visitors’ experiences.
That was the message the National Park Service heard when it offered the public a chance on Tuesday, Sept. 18, to offer their opinions about the future of the park. The open house was held specifically to get public input on the four proposals on the table for the park’s general management plan. The plan, when finalized, will steer NPS’s resources for the next 20 years for not only Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, but all of the Gateway areas located in the New York/New Jersey area.
The small number of people who made the drive to the chapel at Fort Hancock on the blustery, rainy day, had the opportunity to hear from NPS representatives, question them and to offer their input.
“I love coming here,” said Joe Forsthoffer of South Amboy, “and I’m concerned about what’s going to happen.”
Forsthoffer said he regularly visits the park with his bicycle in tow for long rides in nice weather. He’ll get up sometimes as early as 5 a.m. to make the trip to cycle along the paved trail that runs the length of the park. “My kids think I’m crazy,” he said. “But it’s incredible here, the nature, the scenery.”
Forsthoffer would like whatever is done at Sandy Hook to concentrate on maintaining the natural beauty of the site and preserving the aging buildings at Fort Hancock.
Fort Hancock is a historic former military installation, located at the northern tip of the park jutting into Sandy Hook Bay.
The long-term planning options under consideration for the park are:
Alternative A would maintain the current management, retaining the status quo.
Alternative B, labeled “Discovering Gateway,” would have park officials working to improve community connections to highlight the site’s historic, educational and natural attractions to make it a more popular destination.
Alternative C, “Experiencing Preserved Places,” would stress the location’s historic significance. Preservation and restoration would receive added attention.
Alternative D, “Connecting Coastlines,” would have the park service and any selected partners seeking to stress water-based recreation emphasize the site’s education potential focusing on marine habitats.
The hearing and decision-making process “will help us make a decision about what’s best for all of Gateway,” said John Harlan Warren, a NPS spokesman.
“It’s ambitious, I’ll tell you that,” said Dennis Mochtak of Clark.
Mochtak dismissed the first alternative, noting, “I don’t think leaving the park alone is an option.” Bolstering its educational and recreational potential struck home for him. “I think it’s a great park and educational and fun,” and that should be emphasized, he said.
Mochtak, however, was mixed about the preservation of Fort Hancock’s aging buildings. “Some of it should be preserved but some of it should be let go,” he said. “Sometimes we try to save too much.”
Ingeborg Perndorfer of Rumson uses the park year-round to ride her bike, reveling in its “wide open spaces, the natural condition.
“I’d like to see an increase in recreational opportunities,” she said. She favors having locations for visitors to rent kayaks, canoes and long boards on the bay side. NPS also should install a second paved path, so cyclists don’t have to compete with those walking and rollerblading along it, she said.
Other suggestions Perndorfer put forth were a path along the actual beachfront – the existing path is set back and makes its way through a nature area – and shuttle buses to cut down on traffic and relieve parking.
“I’d like to see as little commercialization as possible,” she stressed by limiting businesses to what would be used by park visitors.
Bill Marraccini, executive director of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, attended the open house to get a sense of what was being proposed. The foundation is a countywide not-for-profit organization working on preserving open space.
“MCF has an interest in Sandy Hook and always has,” he said. He planned to report back to the organization’s board at its annual meeting. “As with any team, you can expect there can be a difference of opinion,” he predicted when the board convenes, “but there will be a consensus.”
The public has until Oct. 5 to offer its views which may be submitted in writing through the NPS website or by mail, Warren said.
In addition to the Sandy Hook open house, NPS representatives conducted similar events for the other Gateway National Recreation Area sites at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, N.Y. and Great Kills Park, Staten Island, N.Y.