Volume 22, Number 03 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 29 - June 4, 2009

Downtown Express photo by J.B. Nicholas

Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp., hops on a bike. Starting this Saturday, the entire 2-mile perimeter of the island will be open to cyclists and walkers for the first time, and free bike rentals will return on Fridays.

Island’s princely activities at a pauper’s price

As Leslie Koch described the packed calendar for Governors Island starting this weekend, there was one word that she kept using over and over again: free.

“The boat is free, the programs are free, the green grass is free and on Friday the bikes are free,” said Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp. “It’s a vacation without leaving the city.”

Governors Island, a seven-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan, could be especially attractive to budget-minded New Yorkers when it reopens for the season this Saturday with expanded programs and new park space. Opening day events include the Veuve Clicquot Manhattan Polo Classic, featuring Prince Harry, and a family festival with arts and crafts and theater performances.

Everything on the island is getting bigger this year, from the amount of space open to the public to the number of holes in the free artist-designed miniature golf course.

Cyclists and strollers will also have more room to stretch their legs this year, with the full perimeter of the island open for the first time, and a total of 5 miles of car-free paths.

The new path will take visitors around to the previously closed south side of the island, where a new field called Picnic Point will open this weekend. Dotted with picnic benches — hammocks and swings are coming later this summer — Picnic Point is the closest place on land to the Statue of Liberty.

A week before the island reopened, Picnic Point was a vast sandy stretch with barely a blade of grass in sight. Workers were busy installing an irrigation system, and sod was slated to arrive in a few days, just in time for the opening.

Much of the work ended up happening last minute because of a dispute over funding for the island that left its future in limbo for months earlier this year. Koch did not know until the beginning of April that the island would have enough money to open this summer, and she said it was a challenge to get the island ready in time.

More new public space is coming to the island later in the summer. Starting July 4 weekend, Water Taxi Beach is scheduled to open on what is now a vast, empty parking lot, bringing mountains of sand along with concerts, beer and views of the sun setting over the Lower Manhattan skyline.

Other events this summer include the three-day Figment art festival in June and City of Water day in July. The newly renovated Yankee Pier will also be open this summer, allowing historic vessels to dock on the island.

Ferries to Governors Island leave from the Battery Maritime Building at South and Whitehall Sts. every half hour on Sat., May 30 and every hour on Sun., May 31 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. After that, the island will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 11. For more information, visit govisland.com.

— Julie Shapiro





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