The (Unofficial) Sixth Borough"People really like to try something new when they're out here."
In a city that already has it all, it's incredible that there's always more to see and do. That's never truer than in the summer months when Governors Island welcomes locals and tourists alike to explore its rich history, groovy diversions and magnificent views.
"It's really a vacation without leaving the city," says Elizabeth Rapuano, a spokeswoman for the Trust for Governors Island.
Sitting just a few hundred yards off the southern tip of Manhattan, the 172-acre island made a natural defensive stronghold and military headquarters for the U.S. Army from 1794 until 1966. For the three decades that followed, it served as a U.S. Coast Guard installation. Today the island comprises the 22-acre Governors Island National Monument, managed by the National Park Service, and the 150-acre public recreational grounds, owned by the Trust for Governors Island.
The national monument is open on a limited basis on weekdays throughout the season, which runs from the end of May through the end of September, but the island truly comes alive on the weekends, offering New Yorkers and visitors from around the world unique opportunities to experience the arts, culture, sports and leisure.
"People really like to try something new when they're out here," Rapuano says.
And there's plenty from which to choose.
Military and history buffs can learn about the island's history as part of the United States' coastal fortification system. Walking and biking tours of the monument and historic district are narrated by park rangers, while living-history demonstrations, such as the Civil War Weekend held in August, truly rekindle the past. This year, for the first time in its 200-year history, Castle Williams, the island's landmark circular fort constructed from red sandstone, will be open to the public for guided tours.
The island offers both indoor and outdoor art installations, including the interactive FIGMENT sculpture garden and mini-golf course on the island's Parade Grounds, as well as glassmaking demonstrations presented by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in partnership with the Corning Museum of Glass.
Concerts and dance performances run throughout the season, along with art lessons and fairs. A full schedule of events — including races, food festivals and even a swim competition encircling the island — is available online through the Trust for Governors Island. On select weekends, you can also catch the Gotham Base Ball Club of New York play a game of vintage ball.
Admission to the island is free, and access is available by ferry from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Paid ferry service is also offered through NY Waterway's East River Ferry. Visitors can walk, bike and picnic on the island, and catch-and-release fishing is permitted with a valid New York State fishing permit. If you don't feel like doing much of anything, just put up your feet at Picnic Point and enjoy the city's best land view of the Statue of Liberty.
Governors Island will be closed on Fridays during the 2012 season to permit construction on 30 new acres of parkland that will make its debut in the fall of 2013. New attractions will include Liggett Terrace, a plaza with seating, water features and public art; Hammock Grove, home to play areas, hammocks and 2,000 new trees; and the Play Lawn, featuring two turf ball fields sized for adult softball and Little League baseball.
The increased public space will certainly entice more visitors, as well as provide greater opportunities for activities and events in the years to come.
"The vision," Rapuano says, "is to eventually become a 24/7 place."
If only that were enough time to see and do it all.