In South Brooklyn along Jamaica Bay, New York City’s largest state park has just opened. When fully completed, the Shirley Chisholm State Park, located just south of Starrett City, will be 407-acres. Last week marked the completion of the park’s $20 million first phase of construction, with amenities including ten miles of biking and hiking trails, a pier for fishing and picnicking, and water access.

The park was built as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Vital Brooklyn initiative, a $1.4 billion plan to fund a number of various projects in Central Brooklyn over the coming years. The initiative focuses on creating parks and athletic fields, building affordable housing units, and reducing energy costs for homeowners and business owners. The goal of the project is to break down barriers to health and wellbeing and create recreation centers within a ten-minute walk of every Central Brooklyn resident. 

The park’s namesake, Shirley Chisholm, is widely recognized as a trailblazer for women’s rights. The Brooklyn native was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress in 1968. She represented New York’s 12th congressional district until 1983. In 1972, Chisholm became the first African American woman to run for president. A decade after her death, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015. “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” Chisholm famously said. Chisholm is having her moment, with a new monument to be dedicated to her in Prospect Park, a photograph in an exhibition at New York City Hall, and a feature film coming starring Viola Davis. 

Photo by Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

The park features a large, colorful mural honoring Chisholm by street artist Danielle Mastrion. In addition to bike and hiking trails, the park will also feature the Shirley Chisholm State Park Bike Library, created by nonprofit Bike New York. The library will offer free loaner bikes of all shapes and sizes for visitors to ride the tails of the park. Bike New York aims to encourage bike safety and increase ridership in New York. Partnerships with the park are also planned with other environmental and educational groups such as Audubon New York.

The park stands in place of a former landfill along Jamaica Bay that was owned and operated by the New York City Department of Sanitation until 1983. After its closing, the land was deeded to the National Park Service. The project to convert the landfills included the installation of a below-ground barrier to maintain the potential for future reuse. 

More than 1.2 million cubic yards of fresh soil (nearly 100,000 dump trucks worth) was spread four feet deep across the site, which was planted with over 35,000 trees and shrubs. The addition of these native plants have encouraged a diverse ecosystem of coastal meadows, wetlands, and woodlands and prevented erosion and has attracted a variety of local wildlife.

“Shirley Chisholm fought to improve the health and wellness of underserved communities, a legacy we are carrying on through the Vital Brooklyn Initiative, so we are proud to dedicate this park in memory of her leadership and accomplishments,” said Governor Cuomo at the park’s ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday. 

The Shirley Chisholm State Park marks the second state park opened by Governor Cuomo in New York City, following the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park in 2012. The second phase of the park is expected to be completed in 2021. The design for this phase is still under works, but park goers can expect lawn patios, pop-up environmental education facilities, and a brand new entrance at Fountain Avenue. 

Photo by Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

“As we open this beautiful park and open a whole new area of interest to generations of young people, right here in the backyard of Brooklyn, let us also remember the lesson and the moral of Shirley Chisholm, and fight the good fight,” Cuomo said.

Next, check out Tucked in One of NYC’s Largest Parks is a Historical Dutch Windmill and 10 of NYC’s Elevated Parks and Hidden Gardens