East New York park opens in honor of ‘dynamic trailblazer’ Shirley Chisholm

A mural of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is seen at her namesake state park in East New York, which officially opened on Tuesday.   Photo Credit: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

The first phase of the 407-acre state park has hiking and biking trails at a waterfront site that used to house a landfill.

A mural of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is seen at her namesake state park in East New York, which officially opened on Tuesday.  
A mural of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is seen at her namesake state park in East New York, which officially opened on Tuesday.   Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

A state park in Brooklyn named for the first black woman elected to Congress has officially opened to the public.

The Shirley Chisholm State Park, a 407-acre green space on the Jamaica Bay waterfront in East New York, has 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, a pier for picnicking and fishing and a mural honoring Chisholm, who grew up in Brownsville.

For years, the site was occupied by two landfills that operated between 1956 and 1983. Efforts to reclaim and clean the land kicked off after it was acquired by the National Park Service, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said in a release.

The park is now the largest state park in New York City, Cuomo said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the pier on Tuesday.

“I’m old enough to remember coming down the Belt Parkway, and all you saw was a mountain…. And you closed the window,” Cuomo said. “Nobody knew that you had this beautiful waterfront right here in Brooklyn, and how desperately it was needed.”

Chisholm, who was elected to Congress in 1968, was the first woman to appear in a presidential debate when she ran for the office in 1972, Cuomo noted.

Rep Hakeem Jeffries, left, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo after the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Shirley Chisholm State Park on Tuesday.
Rep Hakeem Jeffries, left, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo after the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Shirley Chisholm State Park on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

In his own speech at the ceremony, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries called Chisholm a “dynamic trailblazer.”

“Shirley Chisholm once said that if they don’t want to give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” Jeffries said. “Well today, Shirley Chisholm has a state park.”

Tuesday marked the opening of the first $20 million phase of the park, which will offer educational programming for children and will include a “Shirley Chisholm State Park Bike Library,” where parkgoers can pick up free loaner bikes to ride on the trails, according to Cuomo’s release.

A second and final $20 million phase slated to wrap up in 2021 will include a “grand entrance” on Fountain Avenue, lawn patios — one of which will host performances and gatherings — and “pop-up environmental education facilities,” the release said.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, lifelong East New York resident Sharon Brown called the park “magnificent.”

“This whole area, for all intents and purposes, it didn’t exist for us. This was a place that was not used. It was a dump,” she said. “This is so welcome and needed by this community.”

“We need some wins,” she added. “And this is a win for East New York.”

Maya Rajamani