A friend and I went to Fort Wadsworth yesterday. The last time I was there was two years ago, when the Hayfoot and I visited the group of fortifications in Staten Island with someone we know. It is always a bit of a journey getting to these types of places in the outer boroughs. The way we go entails taking the subway to Bay Ridge and then a bus across the Verrazano. Bay Ridge is its own corner of New York City, and one that at least on the surface looks the same as it always did. You half expect to see Tony Manero strutting down the street eating two slices of pizza, stacked on top of each other of course.

Verrazano Bridge from Staten Island

Verrazano Bridge from Staten Island

We had a great time yesterday visiting these New York Harbor forts whose history includes, among many other things, a young Captain Robert E. Lee working in the Narrows two decades before the Civil War. To our surprise and disappointment the Visitor Center was closed, due to Superstorm Sandy, sequestration, or something else I don’t know. Despite the disappointment we made the best of things and troopered on. It’s not tough when you have views like these:

Battery Weed and ship in New York Harbor

Battery Weed and ship in New York Harbor

Wadsworth is part of the Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area, which was created forty years ago to provide the ten million or so people in the Greater New York area with recreational and other opportunities. Golden Gate National Recreational Area was founded at the same time. Gateway success has been mixed. Millions visit its beaches every year, providing opportunities for those who otherwise might have to do without. It has also saved significant acreage of natural habitat, and created even more. It is strange to be hiking in marshland while seeing the Manhattan skyline in the far off distance. That’s Gateway. At the same time the consortium of sites has always had something of an identity crisis, struggling as it tries to be many things at once. Access is difficult. The infrastructure in many parts is aged and dilapidated, with predictable results on visitation statistics.

Gateway’s roots go back decades before the creation of the recreation area; in the 1930s and 1940s Robert Moses was active in many projects that eventually came under one umbrella in 1972. The storm of October 2012 is a tragedy and an opportunity for the various sites that make up the recreation area. Cathy Newman of National Geographic has more on the story. She won me over when she called Moses the “master builder,” and not the psychotic “power broker” we have been force fed by Robert Caro.

The Park Service, States of New York and New Jersey, and City of New York seem to be grasp the historical moment. There are significant challenges as well. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.