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Gateway was created by the U.S. Congress in 1972 to preserve and protect scarce or unique natural, cultural, and recreational resources with relatively convenient access by a high percentage of the nation's population. It is owned by the federal government and managed by the National Park Service.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a prime location for viewing birds and bird migrations, diamondback turtle egg-laying and horseshoe crab mating and egg laying. Its 9,155 acres (3,705 ha) are mostly open water, but includes upland shoreline and islands with salt marsh, dunes, brackish ponds, woodland, and fields. It is the only "wildlife refuge" in the National Park System. Originally created and managed by New York City as a "wildlife refuge", the term was retained by Gateway when the site was transferred. All other federally managed areas titled "wildlife refuge" are managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under their own specific criteria and standards.
Floyd Bennett Field, a decommissioned airfield with a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, also hosts the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project (H.A.R.P.) in Hangar B where volunteers are working to preserve the park's collection of historic aircraft. Hangar B is open to the public at selected times during the week. Exhibits and programs on the airfield's history are available in the former control tower and terminal, since converted into the Ryan Visitor Center, named for William Fitts Ryan, the congressman who championed Gateway's creation. The former airfield also accommodates public camping, with 46 campsites. As of August 2013, Floyd Bennett Field campground provides hot showers and clean modern bathrooms. There is also a camp store. No electricity provided. Still, it is the only public campground maintained by the National Park Service that is within the limits of an American city, and the only legal campground in New York City. The grasslands of Floyd Bennett Field are a good place for viewing falcons and kestrels. Floyd Bennett Field also includes concession recreational facilities including a sports arena and ice skating rinks in adaptively re-used hangars. Within this unit, but still nearby, are Dead Horse Bay, which includes a marina concession, and an adjacent golf driving range concession. Bergen Beach, on the north shore of Jamaica Bay, is also nearby and within the unit's boundary, supporting a horse riding academy concession.
Canarsie Pier is the latest in a series of recreational piers near this location, and remains popular as a picnic area and fishing spot on the north shore of the bay.
Fort Tilden, between Jacob Riis Park and Breezy Point on the Rockaway peninsula, has some of the city's most pristine and secluded ocean beaches, a successionalmaritime forest, a coastal dune system, and a freshwater pond. Between 1917 and 1974, Fort Tilden served as part of the harbor's system of defenses, and once housed Nike antiaircraft missiles. Today an observatory deck on one of the old batteries has views of Jamaica Bay, New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline. Fort Tilden is one of the best places on New York Harbor to observe hawks during the fall migration.
Breezy Point Tip occupies the westernmost part of the Rockaway peninsula, forming one side of the outer "gateway" to New York Harbor. Its 200 acres (81 ha) contain oceanfront beach, bay shoreline, dunes, marshes and coastal grasslands. Breezy Point Tip is a nesting area for the threatened piping plover.
Jacob Riis Park is an ocean beach with a boardwalk and historic bathhouse with art deco elements. It was built by powerful New York planner and administrator Robert Moses, and was named after journalist, photographer and reformer Jacob Riis.
Staten Island Unit is located on the southeastern shore of Staten Island facing Lower New York Bay. It includes Hoffman and Swinburne Islands, both off limits to visitation and managed primarily for the benefit of avian species. The unit also includes the following three sites:
Fort Wadsworth is a historic collection of masonry fortifications on the site of much earlier fortifications at the Narrows of New York Bay.
Miller Field is a historic former airfield south of New Dorp with picnic areas, open areas and sports fields.
Great Kills Park includes a marina where visitors can go boating, a beach with lifeguards during the summer, and nature trails. It also serves as a nesting site for osprey.
Sandy Hook Unit is in Monmouth County in northern New Jersey. The barrier peninsula forms the other side of the "gateway" to New York Harbor, and includes two park sites:
Fort Hancock served as part of the harbor's coastal defense system from 1895 until 1974 and contains 100 historic buildings and fortifications.
Sandy Hook contains seven beaches, including Gunnison Beach, a nude beach by custom, as well as salt marshes and a maritime holly forest. Ferries from Manhattan are available in season. Fishing and using hand-launched vessels are popular here.
^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2003-12-05. Retrieved .CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Gateway National Recreation Area (National Park Service)
^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-01-31. Retrieved .CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Gateway National Recreation Area (National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy)
^Congress of the United States. Public Law 92-592. October 27, 1972.
^Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Establishment of Gateway National Recreation Area in the States of New York and New Jersey. United States Senate, 92nd Congress, 1st Session. Report Number 92-345 to accompany S. 1852 Ordered to be printed August 3, 1971