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For Giving Governor's Island a Chance

I took my very first trip to Governor’s Island last weekend. I have wanted to visit ever since I went to Roosevelt Island last year. That trip was a few years in the making as well.

Prior to this weekend the closest I had been to Governor’s Island was when I had dinner at Buttermilk Channel ( and went home to read all about it. SPOILER ALERT-the restaurant’s name describes the connection used to transport goods from Brooklyn to Manhattan and vice versa.

In 2015 I made my maiden (and only) voyage to Roosevelt Island ( so that I could finally see Four Freedoms Park dedicated to FDR’s four freedoms that he believed belonged to all Americans. I also liked the symbolism as FDR held four terms as President.

Seeing as I had such a good time that day I turned my attention to the next island getting a makeover, Governor’s Island. I had no idea what I would do when I got there, after I figured out how to get there, but so it went on my mental to do list.

As this year worn on I began to read about events and activities taken place on Governor’s Island. It was slowly becoming of interest to many other New Yorkers. I am usually ahead of these kinds of trends so I wasn’t surprised.

I believe the final tipping point was learning about the longest slide in N.Y.C., which is fifty-seven foot long. The Slides are located near the top of a section called The Hills. The Slides are actually what they sound like. There are a few slides of various heights for children to play on. They appear almost out of nowhere so it seems like a cool hidden treasure you come upon while walking around the perimeter of the island.

As I prepared for this trip I kept looking at their website and ultimately had become a printing machine. I wanted to be sure to know all of the things I wanted to do when I arrived. I was bringing my best friend and her kids but suddenly it wasn’t all about the cool playgrounds they had. It was now more I want to see Castle Williams, Fort Jay, the abandoned housing units, the undergrounds, food trucks, hammocks, and the haunted house.

A brief summary detailing the history of the island is given by the 7A website (link below):

“For over 100 years, the island was used as a base for the US military, first the Army and then later the US Coast Guard, and featured a residential community for the numerous families stationed there. There were homes, schools, churches, a bowling alley, a movie theatre, even a Burger King. The military departed in 1996, but many of those structures are still very much intact. Since then, the island has become a premiere NYC destination for recreation and events, as well as a haven for artists of all disciplines to bring their works to life.”
With that background information out of the way we can proceed on. Once you are on the ferry, please get on line about thirty minutes prior to departure, it will take all of two minutes to arrive on Governor’s Island. It takes longer to get on and off than the actual trip.
A quick word of caution watch out for the bikes there will be more than you could ever imagine being brought on to the ferry and they get to go on first. Once you are on the island it is every man, woman, and child for themselves. There are no clearly marked pathways.

I found the island to be extremely confusing and enormous. I started from the ferry and headed left. We would end up walking around the entirety of it eventually ending back on line to board the ferry back to Brooklyn. Along the way we would stop at all of the interesting items on our to-do list. I had no idea just how long of a walk it would be.
First up we saw a lot of the abandoned homes where the military had lived. On the other side we would walk through Colonial’s Row to see the gorgeous houses of the senior officers. Those homes seemed so unreal it was like stepping onto a movie set.
We past the section known as The Hills where you can climb up seventy feet and see Manhattan at this vantage point. It is great for photos.
The slides were up next. From there we past the hammocks but did not get to sit on one. They were all in use and there were far fewer than I saw on the website. It was very deceiving.

Next there were two playgrounds for the children but they were not your garden variety swings and slides (slides we were over anyways). Here there are sets of twig looking structures for kids to climb on and through. It actually looked a little dangerous and it seemed all of the parents were doing the heavy lifting.
By this time we were hungry. We easily got a table in the food court (outside) but we would want to vacate it as soon as possible. Apparently this area is practically invested with bees. And these bees are brave. I was literally smacking them away from my face, food, and companions. If you looked around you could see crying children at every table as a bee approached them. Other than this area bugs of any kind were not an issue.
Food trucks line the food courtyard for the purchase of snacks, drinks, food, and even alcoholic beverages. There were also a few ice cream trucks located all around the island. That was something we were saving for later on.
We were all excited for Castle Williams so we headed there next. It is technically a fort, which is what it looked like. We were going to take a tour but found it was enough for us to get around without any help. Including the two minutes I spent in the gift shop we are there about fifteen minutes total.
Fort Jay was incredibly hard to find. For all I know I am there right now. Ok I am not, but still. I know we were probably right near it most of the day but it alluded us. Honestly by this point we were all ready to drop so I didn’t mind. The same goes for the underground archeological sites.
What we did happen to find where unicyclists EVERYWHERE. It was like the circus was in town. The truth was that they were having a festival. They were teaching anyone who wanted to learn and there was even a group playing basketball while riding the unicycles. We were all fascinated.

Our final stop was to be 7A in Nolan Park. It was the designated haunted house. I am pretty sure the events that they say took place here are not based on a true story but they so easily could be. It would make an excellent topic for a book, note to self.
The story you are told when you are about to go in is of the Crowe family. Something happened one Halloween and as a result there are some missing family members. I will not divulge any other details in case you want to do some reading up on it or visit in person. Allegedly no one has been inside since it was abandoned in 1989.
This would be the destination that would make or break us. By the time we were close to Nolan Park I was astounded how much further Governor’s Island activities stretched. There was a truly endless amount of green space where people were picnicking and playing ball. They looked peaceful and relaxed. The weather was beyond gorgeous that day which helped.
It was around three o’clock so we were anxious to go through the house and catch the next ferry. There is a signup sheet so if you find the house faster than we did please be sure to sign up. There are only six people allowed in at a time.
Another, even more important, word of caution- when they say kids are allowed in but it is not recommended they REALLY mean it. We should have listened. I will say that every detail of this operation has been thought through so anyone under twelve years old might want to wait outside. For those of you who survive the entire tour PLEASE let me know what happens. I have a morbid curiosity, bad choice of words I know.
The association behind 7A further explains:
“This is not a money-making venture, but a passion project with the opportunity to create the haunted house experience that New York deserves.”
Deserves, loves, fears? I don’t know which is the most accurate description so for now I will yield to those in charge.
We fought our way to the house, no one who worked there seem to know where it was. Of course we had to walk back to where we just had been and then down so far I thought we would hit water. We didn’t. We also fought our way into the house not having signed up or anything.
We were inside about two minutes before the kids freaked and we had to leave. I could have gone on alone but I felt bad for them and was too scared to go it alone. It was like a twenty/eighty spilt, which naturally I kept to myself until now.

For those of you who are SERIOUS about going to Governor’s Island you will have to go soon, they are closing for the season on September 25. I expect they might stay open later in the year in 2017 depending on popularity and the weather conditions. Planning your trip is easy using the website. Please pay attention to the ferry schedule and make sure you are not getting on one that goes back and forth to the East River, unless that’s your goal. I took the ferry to and from Pier 6 in Brooklyn at the Battery Maritime Building. There is a reasonably priced parking lot and lots of places to grab food and drinks nearby. There are also public bathrooms as opposed to the porta potties that you will see on Governor’s Island.

Both Roosevelt and Governor’s Islands are unique experiences each New Yorker needs to have. As a tourist there are too many things that I believe are more important on your first few trips. But as a local you get such a different view of the city you call home. On Roosevelt Island you feel the intimacy between the people who live there and the remnants of the past a long side those who are visiting to see what is newly constructed. Right in the middle of the island, you can look above to see the tram as it moves back and forth between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan. It is like a special place to visit before you are ready to go back to reality.

On Governor’s Island you feel the comradery of fellow visitors as you make your individual journeys to seeking out the treasures that will appeal most to you. It is like following the yellow brick road except that it is mostly in your minds eye. What Governor’s Island lacks the most are signs, park workers, and path directions. I cannot stress enough how lacking they are in terms of help. This becomes even more obvious when you realize how truly enormous the island is. After five or so hours you think you know what’s what but at every turn there seems to be another endless amount of land to explore. There are very few lights (this is not open at night) so in dreary weather you can see how someone could wander off, get lost, without anyone on the island noticing. After a long day of figuring it out on your own with no one to ask, you are over it, or at least I was.

At the end of a very long but fulfilling day, I apparently decided to end it with a thud. On my way to walk across “the street” to catch my ferry home I did the unthinkable, I stumbled and fell down like a log. I have no idea how I tripped but it is easy enough to do on Governor’s Island. We spent the entire day warning the kids to be careful as they rolled around jumping all over. So it figures that I fall. I guess I am lucky it happened at the end of the day but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Thanks to some very helpful passerby’s the medics arrived. It didn’t appear anything was broken so I limped onto the ferry and then to urgent care back in Brooklyn.

I ended up with a severely sprained right ankle and elbow, both are wrapped and my arm is in a sling, a first for me. It was also my first time in a wheelchair, what a big day. That was my souvenir. I guess I didn’t have to shop in the gift shop in the jail of Castle Williams after all.

Despite this truly unfortunate ending I am still glad I went to Governor’s Island.
If you go you too will be glad you went, just mind your steps and the house known as 7A.

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