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New state park along Jamaica Bay waterfront will be 'a treasure in the heart of Brooklyn,' Cuomo says

State officials envision 407-acre waterfront park on former landfills in Brooklyn will draw joggers, kayakers and fishermen.

Brooklyn's Jamaica Bay waterfront is getting a makeover:

Brooklyn's Jamaica Bay waterfront is getting a makeover: It's becoming a 407-acre state park. Photo Credit: Flickr / New York State Parks

A stretch of Jamaica Bay waterfront where mobsters buried their victims and the city poured its trash finally is becoming a park.

The 407-acre park stretching 3.5 miles along the water will be managed by the state, under a preliminary accord with New York City and the National Park Service, officials said.

“This new state park will be a treasure in the heart of Brooklyn, offering hundreds of acres of beautiful parkland on the shores of Jamaica Bay,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said earlier this month, completing an initiative begun by his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

The site has never been open to the public.

It will open next year, after $15 million is spent building trails, paths, restrooms, concessions and shaded areas for walkers, joggers, bikers, kayakers, fishermen and the like, Cuomo said.

An amphitheater and an environmental education center also are planned.

Later, a new bridge will straddle Hendrix Creek, which divides the two former landfills.

While developers are rediscovering the park’s hardscrabble East New York neighborhood, historian Sergey Kadinsky, who writes the “Hidden Waters Blog,” said: “This is the final Brooklyn frontier.”

The Jamaica Bay park “turns a long forgotten and neglected piece of land into something people will enjoy.”

What will be New York City’s largest state park lies south of the Belt Parkway.

For two centuries after the Dutch claimed almost all of Jamaica Bay, fishing and oyster harvesting flourished, along with small resorts, historians say.

Even then, however, the city sent its trash to the bay, and no one willingly stood downwind of the rubbish mounds, historians say.

“Of course the perception of the bay as a dump site conflicted with its view as a fishing ground and pleasure spot,” noted a 1981 study done for the Department of the Interior.

Sewage also fouled Jamaica Bay; in 1921, shellfishing was banned, the study said.

During the 1930s, Jewish and Italian mobsters, some of whom grew up together on the Lower East Side, joined the infamous “Murder, Inc.” execution squad, mob historians say.

Led by Louis “Lepke” Buchalter and then Albert Anastasia, they buried countless victims — possibly in the hundreds — in the Fountain Avenue landfill, they say.

From 1956 to 1983, New York City turned the two landfills into 130-foot high mounds of trash.

Protests by environmentalists and community members were answered in 1974 when the city gave the land to the adjoining Gateway National Recreation Area.

That did not end the site’s grim history. In 2006, the slain body of 24-year-old Imette St. Guillen, a criminal-justice graduate student, was discovered along Fountain Avenue.

It has taken years to finalize plans for the site. Mario Cuomo’s administration reached an agreement with the city for it to “remediate the landfills and restore the properties back to their natural ecosystems,” the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.

Starting in 2002, New York City spent $235 million capping and covering the landfills with 4 feet of earth, and planting more than 35,000 trees and shrubs, along with prairie grasses.

“Full remediation and restoration” was completed in 2009, officials said.

Kadinsky, the historian, is optimistic the Jamaica Bay waterfront will no longer look like “a bald hilltop without any trees.”

“Soon enough,” he said, “you’ll see people running on top of those hills, flying kites, tossing Frisbees.”


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