Bennett Field a camper’s dream in crowded Brooklyn

May 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm Leave a comment

Lying awake amid the chirping of crickets, gazing at the full moon through my tent’s open ceiling, I felt a million miles away from the chaos of the city.

Then a low-flying plane roared past – so loud it knocked my lantern from a nearby tree – and reminded me I was still in Brooklyn.

“Geez, that one was close,” said my wife, Carly, sitting up bleary-eyed in her sleeping bag. “You gotta love city camping.”

We were on assignment at Floyd Bennett Field in Marine Park, spending the night in the only public campground in New York City.

Located off the shores of Jamaica Bay within earshot of JFK Airport, the one-time airfield turned national park has two camping areas carved out in the woods abutting an old runway with room for about 100 campers.

Larger groups, like the Boy Scouts, can get bigger sites with the proper permits. Site rentals cost $50 for three nights. Reservations are required.

“It’s like an oasis in the city,” said my fellow city camper, Cecilia Davis, who was roughing it with her husband, Jim, and various pets that included a pair of African albino water frogs.

Davis, 51, had been camping for over a week by the time I arrived. “It’s not like anything you’d expect in New York,” she said. “It’s a blast.”

Davis made me a cup of coffee over her campfire as she explained what made this place so special.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” said Davis, over the faint beeping of reversing trucks at a nearby sanitation station. “You can just relax and enjoy nature, or you can run into the city and go do something if you want.”

Camping has been offered year-round at the park since the mid 1980s, but fewer than 1,000 people take advantage in an average year.

“It’s our little secret. Don’t tell,” said camper Nicole Possin, 36, as she ate a breakfast burrito with her friends.

“There’s no free space like this in the city. I can go run through a field right now if I want. There’s no one around to bother me,” she said. “I’m in the wilderness, but I’m only an hour away from my front door in Park Slope.”

Anyone planning an excursion into the Brooklyn outback should be prepared to rough it.

Campsites at Floyd Bennett Field offer only a cooking ring and picnic table. Campers should bring their own water and shelter. There is a communal woodpile for anyone wanting to start a campfire.

Pit toilets, a fancy way of saying holes in the ground, are located a few hundred feet from both campsites – paper not included.

“Don’t feel bad, I bet you don’t do this a lot in Brooklyn,” said my neighbor Jim as he came over to assist my feeble attempt to split wood for my fire.

Park ranger John Daskalakis said there has been growing interest in city camping as the recession forces people to look for cheap vacation alternatives closer to home.

“Almost every weekend in May is booked up,” Daskalakis said. “We’ve been fairly busy for a little-known gem in Brooklyn.”

 BY Jeff Wilkins

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Entry filed under: Brooklyn, Go Coastal, Natural Waterfront, Public Waterfront. Tags: , , , , , , .

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