Recreation and Sustainability—A Visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park
August 5, 2013

As we strolled down the cobble-stoned streets of the neighborhood known as Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass, a.k.a. DUMBO, we found ourselves drawn inevitably towards the waterfront, specifically to the spectacular and relatively new Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Stretching between the Manhattan Bridge to the north, under the Brooklyn Bridge, and on south to Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue, the park is an emerald necklace of sprinkler-studded playgrounds, lawns, and winding paths stretching along the East River waterfront.  It is a most welcome renovation of what was once the industrial waterfront covering the coastline of Brooklyn and Queens. Where gantries once loaded and unloaded cargo onto docks, green spaces, play areas, and outdoor art galleries now stand, all perfect for spending time on a summer afternoon.

If you enter the park along Main Street, one of the first things you will spot—aside from the spectacular views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges—is Jane’s Carousel to the south, an antique dating from the 1920s, the heyday of carousel making. The carousel is open every day except Tuesday between 11 and 7, and tickets are only $2—so it’s a nice place to stop when exploring the park. You might, however, want to save the carousel for a farewell spin (and a special treat for the kids) before leaving because there are so many other things to see and do further on in the park.

Learning While Enjoying

The park’s landscape consists of seven separate ecosystems, including three types of gardens—ornamental, freshwater and native woodland—as well as prairies, salt marshes, lawns and green roofs. The park’s website posts an interactive map to guide you around, as well as seasonal plant guides to help you explore.

A major focus of the park’s design is sustainability, and your kids will almost certainly notice—and ask you about—the fascinating architectural pieces that have been preserved for reuse. We weren’t aware of this aspect of the park the first time we visited, however when we went back again we used this as an opportunity to teach our kids yet again about the delicate process of making New York a greener city by creating more outdoor spaces and restoring former habitats.

The largest renovated site is Empire Stores, a collection of seven Civil War-era warehouses that were used to store coffee beans. The warehouses are empty now, but plans are underway to turn them into something interesting and useful for the neighborhood. Another curiosity-inducing site is Tobacco Warehouse—the remains of a tobacco inspection warehouse that is now used for performances as well as, when we were there, the site for a film shoot.

The park also integrates natural elements into its design. These sustainable features include the Salt Marsh and the Rain and Sun Shelter, both located in the southern portion of the park. The former is a re-creation of the type of ecosystem that existed on the waterfront before industrialization, and the latter is a reconstruction of a section of one of the piers that will provide a shady spot for visitors.

Water, Water Everywhere!

There are five playgrounds scattered around the park, with the biggest located at Pier 6. There, the Water Lab offers children ages 5 through 12 the chance to explore the physics of water through pumps, chutes, and water wheels. The area also has other destination playgrounds such as Slide Mountain, Swing Village, and Sandbox Village, all of which feature the equipment that their names suggest.   The playground at Main Street also has a good-sized sprinkler area, and thanks to the incredible success of the Brooklyn Bridge Park development project, in 2010 kayaks joined the yachts, tugboats, and tourist liners that traditionally plied the East River. In a designated area off Pier 2, the volunteer-run boathouse offers free kayaking and rowing lessons on various days and times.  Check the calendar for availability.  

Getting There and Logistics

Take the F train to York Street, the A or C trains to High Street, or the 2 or 3 to Clark Street, and walk due west—heading down hill—to the water front.  Food and beverage vendors abound through the area, and restrooms are located at Dock Street, Pier 1, Pier 2, and Pier 6. 


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Help a neighbor: Whether it’s the season for shoveling snow, raking leaves, or weeding their garden, your kids will get double benefits from being outdoors and building community.

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