Jamaica Bay Park

Jamaica Bay Park

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

Jamaica Bay is an 18,000-acre wetland estuary surrounded by the Rockaway Peninsula to the South, Brooklyn to the West, and Queens to the East. Comprising an area almost equal to that of Manhattan, the bay consists of numerous islands, a labyrinth of waterways, meadowlands, and two freshwater ponds. The wetlands provide a unique environment for both wildlife preservation and urban recreation. Enclosed by the Rockaway Peninsula and protected from the Atlantic Ocean, the region currently hosts over 325 species of birds, 50 species of butterflies, and 100 species of finfish. A favorite stop for migratory waterfowl, the area is an integral part of the larger, regional ecosystem. One of New York City's most extraordinary natural resources, Jamaica Bay remains highly undeveloped.

Through the efforts of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, much of Jamaica Bay was placed under Parks jurisdiction in 1938. Originally, Jamaica Bay Park covered over 9,151.8 acres of wetlands and beaches. Determined to uphold the park's natural state, Commissioner Moses defeated plans to create a large industrial port and prevented the creation of new landfills.

Following the establishment of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, in 1951, Herbert Johnson was appointed as its resident superintendent. Johnson worked diligently to preserve and restore the natural nesting grounds of waterfowl and shore birds. The resurrection of the nesting grounds has led to ther return of an increasing numbers of species each year. Notables include the return of the snowy egret and the glossy ibis.

On March 1, 1974, over 9,000 acres were transferred to the newly created Gateway National Urban Recreation Area, a congressional initiative designed to create a National Seashore in New York and New Jersey. The Gateway National Urban Recreation Area is comprised of Jamaica Bay along with sections in Breezy Point, Sandy Hook, and Staten Island. Maintained by the National Parks Service, the area is the first national park located in an urban region.

The remaining acreage of Jamaica Bay Park is located in the Bayswater section of the Rockaways. Comprised of three parcels, the park is generally bounded by Jamaica Bay, Head of Bay Basin, Nassau County, and Edgewater Road. The two largest parcels, which are bisected by Mott Basin, are primarily submerged, while the third smaller parcel is completely under water. The park is accessible via a narrow shorefront strip along Edgewater Road and the viewable terrain varies with the tides. Jamaica Bay Park supplements the Gateway National Urban Recreation Area by providing continuous, undisturbed wetland sanctuary for waterfowl and wildlife. On May 17, 1993, Parks acquired an additional two acres lying south of Edgewater Road.

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