Governors Island Gets an Upgrade

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Bike, hike or just sunbathe; there's plenty to do for an afternoon at Governors Island. Photo: The Trust for Governors Island

Bike, hike or just sunbathe; there’s plenty to do for an afternoon at Governors Island. Photo: The Trust for Governors Island

When plans to improve Governors Island’s parks and public spaces started being hashed out in 2010, the trust responsible for overseeing the expansion decided to open up a forum for public input. They quickly found their comment box full of 10,000 suggestions for how to go about upgrading the island. I personally like the illustrated “Don’t mess this place up or you will sleep with the fishes,” entreaty (threat?) on the Post-it Note below. More than anything, the exercise proved that New Yorkers have a serious soft spot for the former Army base that sits a mere 400 yards from Brooklyn Bridge Park (which is getting its own upgrades this week as well).

Governors Island reopens this Saturday, May 24, and for the first time, this season the island will stay open seven days a week instead of just Saturdays and Sundays. This means more time to picnic on its pastoral lawns and enjoy the amazing views of lower Manhattan’s skyline. But the additional access does come at a cost: Ferries to and from the island, which start this Saturday, are no longer free, aside from weekend mornings at 10 and 11am. After those free rides, it will now cost you $2 roundtrip from Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park (which still runs weekends only), or from the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan, the only ferry servicing the island seven days a week. Downtown ferries on the East River Ferry will stop at the island on weekends only, and cost $6 a ride.

Paying to island hop is a bummer to be sure, but the silver lining here is that there will be a lot more going on once you arrive. Here’s what you need to know about the newly improved Governors Island.

Some of the 10,000 comments considered as part of Governors Island's park expansion. Photo: Trust for Governors Island

Some of the 10,000 comments considered as part of Governors Island’s park expansion. Photo: Trust for Governors Island

There are now 30 more acres on which to frolic. Construction recently wrapped on an additional 30 acres of park and public space, which includes Liggett Terrace, a six-acre, landscaped plaza with places to sit and public art installations to admire; Hammock Grove, a 10-acre space with 50 hammocks to hang out in and 1,500 newly planted trees (they’re saplings, so don’t expect them to shade you for several more years); and a 14-acre Play Lawn for recreational activities that includes two natural turf ball fields sized for adult softball and Little League baseball.

Ride bikes for free weekday mornings. A new free-bike program makes it possible for anyone to pick up a set of wheels from Blazing Saddles bike shop and pal around the island for an hour between 10am and noon on weekdays. The shop’s inventory of adult and children’s bikes, as well as tandems and quadracycles, are also available for rental during all other times, starting this Saturday.

Interact with the public art. The Trust for Governors Island has started its own public art program, Art CommissionsGI. It has selected the works of Mark Handforth and Susan Philipsz for its inaugural season, which opens on May 24. Handforth’s exhibit, titled Sidewalk Island, is a manipulation of everyday items like fire hydrants and an oversized telephone receiver suspended from a 30-foot-tall bronze tree. Philipsz’s work, Day is Done, is a call-and-response installation inspired by the island’s military history. It will allow people to communicate to one another across the island everyday at 6pm.

The food is now twice as nice. Governors Island is definitely the perfect place for a picnic, but you don’t have to pack ahead in order to eat while you’re over there. The island’s food options will double this season and now include local favorites like Blue Marble Ice Cream and Brooklyn Soda Works, as well as Carl’s Steaks, Mayhem and Stout and Wafles & Dinges on the weekends.

The minigolf remains free. In addition to the annual Jazz Age Lawn Parties, the Figment art festival returns to Governors Island June 7 and 8. Like every year, the family-friendly event leaves behind installations and a free minigolf course that stays active all summer long. Now that’s what we call a hole in one.

Check out the full calendar of events on Governors Island here.

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