Field Trip: Governors Island

Governors Island fort7I hadn’t been to Governors Island since the mid-1990s, when I took a Big Onion Walking Tour on a cold, windy day. It was fascinating, but I didn’t feel the need to rush back even once it was turned into a park. Yesterday, what with the long weekend, beautiful weather, and no rental in Connecticut, Adam and I decided the island needed to be seen. Plus, this year the park has grown by 30 acres, now that buildings and parking lots have been demolished.

tweet uberThe answer was no, which was a shame, because I have an irrational a deep fear of being stuck in a line, and I was convinced there would be terrible waits for the ferry. I was wrong, but I’d still rather go by water taxi, if anyone is thinking of starting such a service up. We arrived at the Battery Marine Terminal a few minutes before 11 a.m. and strolled right onboard; the only delay was in getting off, when we had to do a slow march up the hill. (The park is open daily through Labor Day, and all relevant visiting info is here.)

Governors Island ferryGovernors Island ferry terminalGovernors Island disembarking slowWe skipped the maps and signage and just walked and walked, exploring the old fort (a highlight, what with all the creepy underground rooms), the Admiral’s House, the outdoor art, and the food courts. I felt like I was on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. The old buildings give the island a terrific ambiance, and we spent most of the time debating what the ideal purpose of the park would be—landing, ultimately, on a college campus.

Governors Island fort Governors Island fort2 Governors Island fort3 Governors Island fort4 Governors Island fort5 Governors Island fort6Governors Island parade grounds Governors Island treehouse Governors Island art Governors Island food courtGovernors Island alleeThe building known as Castle Williams, meanwhile, would be an ideal place for teen gladiator battles.

Governors Island castle2Governors Island castleYou can definitely tell when you get to the new part; if it lacks some of the rundown charm of the other areas, it’s still pretty cool. The Hammock Field you may have read about—I neglected to take any photos—isn’t quite as impressive as it was in my mind. A decade of tree growth will help a lot.

Governors Island hanger sculpture Governors Island ballfield Governors Island bluegrass band Governors Island building Governors Island food court2 Governors Island shrubs Governors Island arcadeWe were on Governors Island for two hours, and it was both wonderful and enough. At the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I have one major complaint. The noise from helicopters buzzing over the island was nonstop—often you could hear up to three or even four at a time. The only relief, such as it was, came at the food court, where generators drowned out the noise. I’m increasingly noise-sensitive in my (lower!) middle age, but by the time we got back on the ferry I could feel tension in my shoulders, which was pretty much the opposite reason we went in the first place. (P.S. Who thought it was a good idea to install a huge bell that kids can ring to their demonic hearts’ content?) Or next time, I’ll just bring earplugs, along with a picnic—I don’t care if I’m off-trend, I don’t like eating from food trucks—and hand sanitizer, because there’s not much running water.

Manhattan skyline seen from Governors IslandPrevious Field Trip posts:
F.D.R. Four Freedoms Park
Litchfield County, Conn.
One Wall Street
Behind the Scenes at Grand Central Terminal
The Howard/Crosby Microneighborhood
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
East River Ferry
Museum of American Finance

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  1. I took the family Saturday, opening day, and was quite impressed by the new park. It occurred to me to recommend you visit, but I worried you’d be too jaded to enjoy it, particularly given all the breeders there.

    My only advice is that it’s really the perfect size for biking, and they have reasonably priced bike rentals on the island if you don’t have your own. Once the Battery Park bikeway is done (someday) and you don’t have to navigate the horrible crush of tourist buses to get to the ferry, it really will be an idyllic summer destination.

    • I think I was a bit lazy in writing this post—well, tired is a better word, not just from walking around Govs Island but more so from the re-entry to Manhattan. Have you been near Battery Park on a weekend? Gadzooks!

      Anyway, thanks for mentioning the biking—it bears including that the bike rental place also has those surrey things. The bike-rental lines were a bit long when we left at 1pm, so you might want to catch an early ferry if that’s part of your plan.

      P.S. I would *never* use the word “breeders”! Yes, there are a LOT of children, but the island is perfect for them—they can run and explore and yell.

      P.P.S. I am too jaded to enjoy much of the arts programming, and that includes the one shop we saw. But the old buildings and open spaces—and the sense of being away from the city—are fantastic.

      • Erik, how about a photo essay this summer on just how hellish Battery Park is right now on the weekends, especially where the tourist buses disembark across from the American Indian museum? You should preserve for posterity the suffering we’re enduring so that future generations can enjoy the amazing Battery Park under development (particularly the wider sidewalks and east-west bike lane connector). It will make for awesome before and after pictures next year.

  2. A college campus? Well, maybe a place to take all kinds of specialized courses for a couple of days or weeks during the cold, winter months. But for the warmer half of the year, Governor’s Island is a gift to a busy city. As you pointed out, it is a paradise for kids. Perhaps there can be a small, secluded section with comfortable seating for older folk who simply want to be outdoors on a beautiful day in summer. As for the noise, well we seem to be stuck with security helicopters, but surely something can, and should, be done about tourist helicopters. Can we divert the city’s attention from the horse drawn carriages to the noise polluting and air polluting helicopters? And, by the way, most civilized cities with horse drawn carriages use two horses per carriage not only lessening the load but giving the horse a companion. Very important to horses. Putting the really dangerous streets off limits would save them too. (Sorry about the diversion from helicopters to horses. Must be an alphabetic glitch somewhere).

  3. We went to the island today with a picnic! and our bikes, which is truly the way to go. The weather was glorious and it’s wonderful to have this city escape only a 10 minute ferry ride away.
    However, the helicopters nearly made us insane and ultimately shortened our visit. They were constant and low-flying and seemed completely unnecessary. On the return ferry trip, we could see the heliport which had a huge line of tourists!? I’d vote for an initiative to impose limits on the number or frequency of flights.


    It was an initiative like this that got the heliport in Hudson River Park closed to tourist flights. More anti-helicopter noise from people in the community = less noise from helicopters.

  5. Great review – I was there as well this past weekend and I have to agree with you on the helicopters AND that freaking bell! WHY?!?

    In response to your question on what the island should be for, I selfishly think it is a perfect place for another set of public tennis courts. :)