Sunday, January 27, 2013

Coastal Defenses to Climate Change, Gateway National Recreation Area

Battery Weed,  Staten Island New York

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Defending our nation’s harbors is serious business, and Gateway National Recreation Area provides an opportunity to explore the history of coastal defenses. From early earth works to guided missiles, our military has spent millions of dollars protecting the entrances to our nation.  

Surprisingly, now the greatest threat to these amazing fortifications is not an invading army but the effects of global climate change. Rising sea levels and the increasing number of devastating storms, like Super Storm Sandy, have taken a toll on these defenses like no other military force could.

Fort Tomplins, Staten Island New York

While working on an urban camping study for Gateway National Recreation Area, I explored a number of the coastal defenses at the park. By far the most impressive fortifications are at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. Nicknamed, the Guardian of the Narrows, Fort Wadsworth sits at the mouth of New York Harbor by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Military defenses have existed on this site for over 200 years and date back to before the Revolutionary War. The two sites that make up Fort Wadsworth are Fort Tompkins and Battery Weed. The thick masonry walls of Fort Tompkins command the high ground overlooking the harbor entrance. While the Civil War era Battery Weed sits at water level providing a clear shot at any vessels foolish enough to try entering the harbor.

Guardian of the Narrows

Sandy Hook, a narrow barrier island in New Jersey, makes up yet another part of Gateway National Recreation Area and is home to Fort Hancock. Established in 1874, this site was the U.S. Army’s first proving grounds for new weaponry and would serve the nation through two world wars. During the cold war, Sandy Hook became a critical part of the Nike Missile Defense System as masonry walls gave way for surface to air missile launch pads. The batteries and remnants of these Nike sites can be seen today, but as Super Storm Sandy raged along the east coast, the storm surge submerged the majority of Sandy Hook.  

NIKE Missile at Sandy Hook

To the north of Fort Wadsworth one can visit another key part of Gateway National Recreation Area, Floyd Bennett Field and Fort Tilden. During the golden age of aviation, Floyd Bennett Field was New York City’s first Municipal Airport and went on to serve our nation during World War II as a training location for Navy pilots. Another barrier island, Fort Tilden also housed military defense batteries and was the location of numerous Nike missile launch sites. Like Sandy Hook to the south, the barrier island of Fort Tilden was pounded by Super Storm Sandy.

With the increased frequency of violent weather, it is hard to ignore the rising evidence of climate change and the "science" behind it. With these mounting threats to costal heritage, what will the future be for our legacy of coastal defenses?  

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