It may have seemed out of place to see motorhomes and camping gear set up in the urban jungle of downtown Manhattan on an episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” this year featuring retail chain Camping World. But camping in the great urban outdoors isn’t far-fetched. Pitching a tent and eating s’mores under a starry sky are possible in the neighboring New York City borough of Brooklyn — at Floyd Bennett Field, a former airport used by Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes.
On Monday (June 13), Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a series of steps to link parks and other open spaces in the New York City metropolitan area more closely with local communities, particularly young people, so that all can better enjoy the natural beauty and history of the region. These steps and others fall under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative.
As part of this effort, Salazar said the National Park Service is developing the largest urban park campground in America at Floyd Bennett Field. By the Fourth of July weekend, Floyd Bennett Field, which currently has just five tent campsites, will open 47 more sites, including six for RVs. Over a two-year period, the campground will expand to a total of 90 tent and RV sites. The campground may ultimately house 600 sites, according to a news release by the National Park Service.
The campground expansion at Floyd Bennett Field “is a way to introduce people in the New York area to healthy living and national parks, and the kind of things you do in national parks,” John Harlan Warren, public affairs specialist at Gateway National Recreation Area, told MotorHome magazine. Floyd Bennett Field is part of Gateway NRA, which encompasses three New York City boroughs and parts of New Jersey.
Warren says Salazar hopes to appeal to the “diverse population we have here in the New York area. The national parks belong to them and to all Americans.”
“Many New Yorkers have never had the opportunity to camp,” says Warren. In order to introduce urban camping to New Yorkers, Floyd Bennett Field will host camping lessons one weekend each month from June through September, he says.
Called “Explore the Urban Outback,” the program offers visitors who haven’t had such experiences or need brushing up since their days as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts a basic camping education. Warren says they’ll learn how to pitch a tent, build a fire in a pit using safe techniques and go kayaking. They’ll take hikes and participate in some nature activities. And in the evening, these camping neophytes will get a lesson in something all campers must know: how to make s’mores. There is no extra cost for the “Urban Outback” program beyond the $20 a night camping fee, but signups are required.
“I believe national parks play a very important role in places such as this,” says Warren, “because they preserve and promote natural history.” He adds that “if we’re going to preserve our natural resources in the future, we need to have people know how important they are.”
Warren, a camping enthusiast himself, is optimistic that the Floyd Bennett Field campground expansion will attract more New Yorkers to the lifestyle. Because campers can stay within the city limits of New York, it’s also less expensive than traveling out of the area for the experience.
Despite the campground’s proximity to the urban jungle, campers can actually hear the tree frogs and see the stars in the sky from their campsites. And camping so close to the big city has its advantages. “Theoretically, you can see a Broadway show in the evening and camp in your tent at Floyd Bennett Field afterward,” says Warren. Not a bad way to spend a day in the urban outback.