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Brooklyn outdoors: Camping, hiking, and rowing in southern Brooklyn

Brooklyn Daily

Photo gallery

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Home sweet home: Campsites at the federally protected park are $20 a night and include a fire pit, grill, and picinic table — but you have to bring your own tent.
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Sporting wood: Don’t worry about finding firewood, a massive wood pile at the campgrounds’ entrance makes building and maintaining a fire a breeze.
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Haulin’: Mike from Sheepshead Bay finds an innovative way to gather firewood.
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Blazin’ in Brooklyn: In no time you have a roaring fire — which is perfectly legal at Floyd Bennett’s campsites.
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Thunder ahead: But watch out for storm clouds!

With warmer weather taking hold, Courier Life’s adventure corespondent — yours truly — and a companion headed to Floyd Bennett Field — Brooklyn’s portion of the Gateway National Recreation Area — to scope out all the outdoorsy fun to be had in Brooklyn’s only national park.

To get to Floyd Bennett Field, we set out southward on bicycles, taking advantage of the Ocean Parkway Greenway and Avenue U before a jaunt on the Jamaica Bay Greenway dropped us at Floyd Bennett Field’s doorstep.

Two uncharacteristically friendly federal employees at the Ryan Visitor’s Center — originally the airport’s control tower — ran down the rules and pointed out things to do on a map — an archery range, kayak launches, a remote control car track. One explained that the campgrounds would be sleepy this weekend, but would wake up when summer hits, leaving all 30 tent sites and 20 recreational vehicle hookups booked for several months straight.

After checking in, a short pedal down one of the airport’s runways brought us to the campgrounds, where we found as eclectic a mix of neighbors as you could find in Brooklyn — a group of plaid-clad dads bonding with their toddler daughters over s’mores, a dozen Russians and Ukranians ignoring international tensions to swill cognac together and play charades, and a loner sitting hunched over his fire enjoying the relative solitude.

This ain’t your rooftop-camping, Williamsburg crowd.

After setting up our tent, we wandered around the airfield, looking at the old hangars and making our way north to the park’s nature trails.

Even with the trails’ seclusion, we could still hear a DJ booth bumping Top 40 hits for a 5k at nearby Aviator Sports Complex and jets overhead streaming into Kennedy Airport.

Some ominous clouds and a brief rain sent us back to camp to build a fire before things got too soggy. The park maintains a hefty firewood pile at the campground entrance, so scavenging in the woods wasn’t necessary.

In fact, scavenging is not allowed in the park, and the logs provided are rather large, so you may want to bring your own starter. Make friends with your local laundromat — dryer lint is light, compactible, and highly combustible kindling.

After the campfire was crackling, we roasted some Nathan’s Famous hotdogs and waited or the stars to come out. A few peeked out of the black, but New York City’s great glow overpowered much of the night sky. We visited with some of our neighbors before turning in early.

The next morning, we packed up and headed to Marine Park to do some kayaking. A vendor there rents hourly and by the day. We paddled south toward Gerritsen inlet and the Belt Parkway, but a brisk headwind deterred us, and we stopped on a shell-lined sandbar of the creek’s central island and had lunch. West across the water, a dirt bike buzzed through the section of the park bordering Gerritsen Beach.

Having our fill of the sea, we mounted up and started the ride home by way of Canarsie. The Jamaica Bay Greenway took us north to the Canarsie Pier — also part of the Gateway National Recreation Area — where we eyed the local anglers before hopping onto E. 94th street north and toward home.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.

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