Fort Totten Park Opens To The Public
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was joined by Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, City Councilmember Tony Avella, Congressmember Gary Ackerman, and state Senator Frank Padavan to officially open Fort Totten as a New York City park last week. The 49.5-acre park located at the Civil War-era fort in Bayside includes waterfront paths, soccer fields and has sweeping views of Long Island Sound, Throgs Neck Bridge, and Fort Schuyler in The Bronx. The property was transferred to the city by the National Park Service in 2004.
“Today we open another great waterfront park for New Yorkers,” Bloomberg said. “Fort Totten is the next great step in my Administration’s efforts to create parks and open space along the city’s 578 spectacular miles of shoreline. With paths running along the Long Island Sound, soccer fields and areas for passive recreation and of historic interest, Fort Totten Park is certain to become one of New York’s most popular parks. I would like to thank Congressman Ackerman, Borough President Marshall and state Senator Padavan for their commitment and dedication to opening Fort Totten to this community.”
The 49.5-acre park includes a Civil War-era battery, 11 historic buildings, several of which have been designated a New York City historic district, a 13-acre parade ground with soccer fields, and pathways with views of Long Island Sound. Fort Totten Park will host events throughout the year, including Shakespeare performances, concerts, children’s performances, and sports leagues. Additionally, the Flushing YMCA’s outdoor pool located inside the park will be open to adults, teams, and families several days a week. Urban Park Rangers will also offer weekend tours of the property’s historic features.
“Today, the communities of Bayside, Bay Terrace, Douglaston, and Robinwood realize a long-awaited dream,” Benepe said. “Thanks to lobbying and funding by visionary civic leaders and elected officials, this gorgeous property with unparalleled views and unlimited recreation possibilities is now under the stewardship of the city of New York and will remain a public park in perpetuity.”
“We’ve been working for more than 20 years for this moment,” Ackerman said. “Transforming Fort Totten into a sprawling public park has been a vision I’ve had since 1980. Now, a quarter of a century later, it’s finally happening.”
The mayor has provided more than $12 million in the executive budget to fund the operation and improvement of the property. Among other projects, funding will go towards the repair of the seawall, the inclusion of Shore Road into the Brooklyn/Queens Greenway and the demolition of aging townhouses on the north end and the development of that area into a passive-use park. $65,000 was also allocated for an emergency stabilization of the Old Willet’s Farmhouse, a historically significant site that predates the fort itself.
The $740,000 renovation of Fort Totten’s historic battery began last year and is expected to be completed later this summer. The project to stabilize and restore the battery included the installation of lights, railings, drainage and new blue stone. It was funded by a $250,000 grant through the New York State Northeast Queens Nature and Historic Commission, with a match from state Senator Padavan, along with funds from former Borough President Claire Shulman and Councilmember Tony Avella.
Marshall has also provided $850,000 to restore an historic ordinance building and convert it into a visitor’s center and headquarters for the Urban Park Rangers. The restoration is currently in the design phase and will include the installation of a wheelchair accessible bathroom, replacement of the roof, waterproofing, and the regrading and repaving of the yard outside of the building. The visitor’s center is expected to be completed in the fall of 2006. Ackerman has also earmarked $2.8 million in federal transportation funds that will improve access and parking at Fort Totten.
“Fort Totten is a great example of how an historically significant site can also be an integral part of our present,” Padavan said. “Not only was Fort Totten vital to the security of New York during the Civil War, but it has continued in its importance to our community and country—as the home to the U.S. Army Reserve’s 77th RRC, Bayside Historical Society, Northeastern Queens Nature and Historical Preserve Commission, the Fire Department and several not for profit organizations, providing our community with enriching recreational and intellectual activities and attractions.”
“The Queens Borough President’s Office has been a partner with the community and the City in planning for the future of Fort Totten since the federal government announced plans to close the historic fort in 1995,” Marshall said. “These 50 acres of parkland are located on one of the most scenic areas of the entire city. This open parkland, a longtime component of the reuse plan, will provide recreational enjoyment for a new generation of parkgoers and is an appropriate use for this waterfront property.”
Fort Totten Park takes its name from the Civil War-era fortress on the property, which was named for General Joseph Totten (1788-1864) after his death in the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. Built at the mouth of Long Island Sound, across from its counterpart, Fort Schuyler, Fort Totten created a pinch point meant to protect the eastern approach to New York harbor. Soon after its completion, however, the fort became obsolete as a defensive structure, due to rapid advances made in artillery during the Civil War. Over the next century, it housed hospital care, the Engineer School of Application, artillery, and the Electric Mines and Army School of Submarine Defense, among others. Since 1969, it has been home to the 77th Regional Readiness Command of the U.S. Army Reserves. Approximately 77 acres of the 147-acre fort, as well as several buildings, will continue to be occupied by the Army Reserve and the New York City Fire Department.