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BK’s National Park

Nationally, parks mean Old Faithful, Yosemite and delightful black bears hungry for picnic baskets. Here in Brooklyn it’s swings, a seesaw - maybe a ball field or two.

Well, not exactly. While our borough certainly boasts a vast and varied network of top-notch green spots where you can go to shag a few pop-flies and ice the puck with the kids, it is also home to a bona-fide National Park.

Gateway National Recreation Area boasts more possums than black bears, but with over 13,000 acres of lush wilderness spreading out across the confines of Jamaica Bay, there’s plenty of room to immerse yourself in nature’s bounty and forget you even live in New York City.

Presently, Gateway is busy putting together its General Management Plan. With input from the public, the ambitious document will be used to help chart the course of the park over the next 20 years.

In February, the William Fitts Ryan Visitor Station, located just off of Flatbush Avenue, in the heart of Floyd Bennett Field, began an 18-month restoration project highlighting the history of the city’s very first municipal airport.

Among the new programs and exhibits on tap include salutes to world-famous aviators and Floyd Bennett Field luminaries like Howard Hughes, Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart – currently being resurrected on movie screens nationwide by actress Hilary Swank.

High-flying history aside, one of the best vantage points to take in all that Gateway National Recreation Area has to offer is on the water.

The Gateway Marina on Flatbush Avenue has everything you need to float your boat while kayaks await at Canarsie Pier for all those who prefer to paddle away from the concrete and asphalt under their own power.

There’s also great fishing for eager anglers always angling to land the big one.

Call the marina at 718-252-876 and the Floyd Bennett Field Visitors Center at 718-338-3799 for all the details.

Of course, the more aquatically-inclined among you might not want to leave the swimming just to the fish when the weather is right. Fortunately, there’s plenty of surf at Jacob Riis Park. You might also decide to kick back in your own beachside cabana at the Breezy Point and Silver Gull clubs. Seasonal and day-use passes are available at both facilities. Call 718-634-7200 to find out more.

Taking Gateway by land presents all kinds of opportunities for thrill seekers and nature lovers – from camping out underneath the stars, to digging deep into the dirt at Brooklyn’s largest community garden.

There are enough trails criss-crossing the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to make you wonder what the Australian Outback must really be like. Along the way discover species of birdlife you never knew existed here in your own backyard.

Call the Floyd Bennett Field Visitors Center and the Floyd Bennett Garden Association at 718-338-4255 for all the details.

This month brings youan up close exploration of West Pond and Bay Birds on November 14 from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Visit Fort Tilden on November 15 from 11 a.m. to 1p.m. and discover shorebirds, fish, crabs, seashells and more along the shore.

Find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Gateway at the Herbert Johnson Lecture Series on November 18 from 7 to 9 p.m.

The NYC Audubon Winter Waterfowl Workshop is on November 22 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Reservations are required for some events, so call 718-318-4340 for details.

Not all of your exploration will have to be done on foot, however. Gateway invites visitors to saddle up too. Choose your own steed at the Jamaica Bay Riding Academy, 718-531-8949, or hop a cruiser bicycle and zip along Floyd Bennett Field’s historic runways or Fort Tilden’s trails. There are also miles of Greenway to explore.

Gateway’s newest concessionaire – Aviator Sports and Recreation – houses more indoor and outdoor sporting facilities – from volleyball courts to rock climbing walls- than you can shake a hockey stick or baseball bat at.

Call 718-758-7500 for all the year-round info.

If your sports fix still isn’t satisfied, try archery, golf or model airplane flying. Gateway has them all, and the Visitor Center has all the info on the necessary permits.

The Brooklyn Golf Center is located right next to Floyd Bennett Field and will get you going with a full-service driving range and instruction. The Riis Park Pitch and Putt Golf Course, meanwhile, offers users an 18 hole par 3 executive course to tee-off on.

Call 718-253-6816 and 718-474-1623 respectively.

Finally, Gateway National Recreation Area offers bear-free picnicking. Enjoy either outdoor barbequing at Jacob Riis Park or group picnicking at Fort Tilden.

To find out more about Gateway’s General Management Plan log onto www.nps.gov/gate/index.htm

The U.S. Congress created Gateway in 1972 as the first unit of the National park system catering to nearby urban residents.

—Joe Maniscalco

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