By ALAN FEUER
Published: July 29, 2011
|GUARDIAN Don Riepe, near an osprey nest, has lived on Jamaica Bay since 1981. He is among the advocates who work to protect the bay from human intrusion.|
A giant salt water puddle, pooled over 20,000 acres beneath the leaky eaves of southern Queens and Brooklyn, the bay lies at the far end of the Rockaways A line. And to ride that line from Times Square to Canal Street to Broadway Junction, and then through Ozone Park to Howard Beach and Broad Channel, where suddenly there are marshes offshore and ibises and egrets in the sky, is to understand that with a simple 90-minute trip one can find a wilderness within the city limits.
The bay is “the one place in New York where nature is so dominant that it makes the city a backdrop,” Brad Sewell, an environmental lawyer and blogger, recently wrote.
Of course, that backdrop has caused the bay considerable trouble over the years. Since the industrial revolution, it has served as a dumping ground for items that the city does not wish to see: its garbage fills, sewage treatment plants and occasional dead bodies.
But in the past 10 years or so, as the greening of New York has taken hold, an alliance of officials, environmentalists and local advocates has emerged to save the bay from what makes it so distinctive — which is to say, from its condition as a wild place in the country’s biggest city.
Today, Jamaica Bay has reached a kind of inflection point, poised between what it is and what it could become.
The lush, green cord-grass marshes are still eroding rapidly, but terrapin turtles have returned in such force that just last month, a stubborn bunch blocked a busy runway at Kennedy. Seals have been spotted sunning themselves on shore rocks. Fleets of kayaks are available for day trips. Even Brooklyn hipsters — those self-conscious harbinger birds, arriving early at what’s soon to be in vogue — have been flocking to the summer cabanas that rest along its shores.
All this energy reflects a central fact: Jamaica Bay sits at the literal and figurative edge where the natural and the manmade worlds collide. “It’s just a beautiful, natural ecosystem in the middle of this huge metropolitan area,” said Don Riepe, a suntanned 71-year-old who has lived on the bay since 1981 and has held the title of Jamaica Bay guardian for six years, since retiring from the National Parks Service. “I love the smell and the sound of the bay, the calmness of the water, the marine life, the bird life, the seasons.”
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