Jamaica’s Incredible but Shrinking Bay By Aileen Jacobson - 01/14/2006 Newsday
Whenever Daniel Hendrick wants to play hooky from work or get away on weekends, he says, he visits Jamaica Bay.
"It's a great place," says Hendrick, who, as editor in chief of the Queens Chronicle, based in Rego Park, and as a freelancer for Newsday, has covered the bay in news and feature stories.
So what is the title of his first book? "Jamaica Bay," of course. A paperback with handsome historic photos and maps, it's part of an "Images of America" series by Arcadia Publishing (arcadiapublishing.com), which specializes in local histories.
"The big concern with the bay now is the disappearing salt marshes," due in part to the rising sea level throughout the Northeast, says Hendrick. His last chapter explores that and other environmental issues. It includes heartbreaking photos of landfills and dredging that have altered the landscape of the bay, an island-dotted body of water that taps Nassau County's southwest corner, including Inwood and Meadowmere Park, and is sheltered on the south by the Rockaway Peninsula. Fishing boats, beach houses on stilts and small summer bungalows define the simple life in the Meadowmere area.
When Hendrick, who lives in Sunnyside, visits his favorite spot, he takes the Cross Bay Boulevard, which bisects the bay as it heads to the Rockaways, he says. But he stops at the first parking lot on Broad Channel Island. The lot is open 24 hours, he says, and offers views of the bay, the A train (above ground there) and Kennedy Airport. "You can do train-spotting, plane-spotting and get some fresh air," he says.
The bay played a large role in aviation history: In 1917, the U.S. Navy built the Rockaway Naval Air Station on what is now part of Jacob Riis Park. Floyd Bennett Field, New York City's first municipal airport, opened on the bay's Barren Island in 1931 and later became a naval air station. In 1948, the airport that was to become JFK opened.
Robert Moses, who shaped so much of New York and Long Island, put his imprint on Jamaica Bay, too, Hendrick writes: As New York City parks commissioner in 1938, he outlined his plans for parks and recreation areas, later adding a wildlife refuge that benefited the bay. But he was "also to blame for many of its problems," Hendrick concludes, by allowing housing projects and garbage dumps.
Hendrick spent hours researching history, beginning with the first American Indian settlers, and finding old photos that capture vibrant moments along the way.
"The bay itself is half the size it used to be a century ago," he notes. "That's amazing."
Hendrick reads from "Jamaica Bay" on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Cross Bay Boulevard, Broad Channel, Queens, free, but the National Parks Service requests reservations, 718-318-4340.
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