Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways

Beach Channel West

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Beach Channel West is a small area with a great view of nearby Jamaica Bay. Beach Channel West provides a little calm at the side of the usually bustling Beach Channel Drive.

Located on the northern shore of the Rockaway peninsula, Beach Channel West adjoins Jamaica Bay, an 18,000-acre wetland estuary bordered by the Rockaway Peninsula to the South, Brooklyn to the West, and Queens to the East. The bay has a total area nearly equal to that of Manhattan, and contains numerous islands separated by a labyrinth of waterways. The region also supports meadowlands and two freshwater ponds. The wetlands of Jamaica Bay are protected from the harsh environment of the Atlantic Ocean by the Rockaway Peninsula, and provide a unique environment for both wildlife and urban recreation. The region is host to more than 325 species of birds, 50 species of butterflies, and 100 species of fin-bearing fish. A favorite stopping point for migratory waterfowl, the area is an integral part of the larger, regional ecosystem. Jamaica Bay is one of New York City’s most extraordinary natural resources and remains undeveloped by virtue of federal, state, and city legislative and legal protection.

The name Rockaway is closely related to the language of the Delaware and Chippewa Native Americans. Linguistic experts recognize both “Reckonwacky,” meaning “the place of our own people,” and “Reckanawahaha,” meaning “the place of laughing waters,” as the area’s indigenous names. Following the region’s European colonization during the seventeenth century, the present name may have derived from these words. Other interpretations include “lekau,” meaning sand, and “lechauwaak,” for fork or branch. All interpretations reflect the historic and geographic traits of the peninsula.

The Canarsie tribe, which originally inhabited the area, sold the mostly barren land to Captain Palmer, an Englishman, with a deed granted by then Governor Thomas Dongan (1634-1715) in 1685. Disappointed with his purchase, Palmer sold the land in 1687 to Richard Cornell, a prominent iron master from Long Island, whose descendant, Ezra, founded Cornell University in 1865.

The title for this area was vested in the City of New York in February 1938. Beach Channel West provides visitors with a grassy area and breathtaking views of Jamaica Bay. The area also contains a seawall that prevents erosion and protects the surrounding community from storm floods.

Directions to Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways

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