Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Naval Cemetery Landscape (NCL), a 1.7-acre memorial landscape on the edge of the Brooklyn Navy Yard has been closed for the past three months to keep visitors safe and to help “flatten the curve.” Last week, NCL opened its gates again to the public on Wednesdays through Sunday from 10 AM – 6 PM, requiring visitors to wear a face covering and keep six feet distance from others. The off-the-beaten path green space opened in 2016 in a portion of the facility closed off to the public for 90 years. From 1831 to 1910, the landscape served as a cemetery where more than 2,000 US Navy and Marine Corp officers and enlisted men were laid to rest. The landscape was developed by the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI), a nonprofit organization committed to developing and maintaining the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, a 26-mile protected route.

Photo by Greg Topscher, Naval Cemetery Landscape staff

The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway has been experiencing a rapid growth of users during the pandemic, and as Remy Schwartz, Director of Development and Administration at BGI tells us,  “BGI was eager to reopen NCL as soon as possible to meet demands of local community for open space and nature during lockdown, especially because the areas surrounding NCL are ill-served by other parks and open spaces.”

Naval Cemetery landscape entranceNaval Cemetery Landscape Entrance / Courtesy of Brooklyn Greenway Initiative

The Brooklyn Navy Yard served as America’s premier Naval shipbuilding facility from 1801 until 1966, and in 1838, the Brooklyn Naval Hospital opened by the cemetery, developing new techniques in anesthetics, wound care, and physical therapy. The Brooklyn Naval Hospital Cemetery housed over 2,000 graves, yet nearly a thousand individuals were reportedly relocated to Cypress Hills, meaning that hundreds of burials may still be at the site. The cemetery had two Congressional Medal of Honor winners and a Fijian Chief.

The NCL today is consists of a wildflower meadow and sacred grove surrounded by a boardwalk. Over fifty species of native plants bloom at NCL each spring, including purple coneflower, New York ironweed, and Bee Balm. Recently, the BGI has been investigating how landscape immersion has restorative benefits on urban residents alienated from nature that may positively affect life outcomes.

Naval Cemetery LandscapePhoto by Greg Topscher, Naval Cemetery Landscape staff

Next week, the BGI will be celebrating Pollinator Week and New York City Wildflower Week, with activities and initiatives across the greenway and in NCL, one of Brooklyn’s major pollinator habitats. On June 29th, Untapped New York will be hosting a Virtual Tour of the Naval Cemetery Landscape at the end of Pollinator Week. This virtual tour, for Untapped New York Insiders, will be led by Danielle Knott, the Naval Cemetery Landscape Coordinator at Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. Use code STAYHOME to join Untapped New York Insiders for two months free. Information about helping pollinators in Brooklyn will also be posted to NCL’s Instagram page.

Brooklyn Waterfront GreenwaySignage on the Brooklyn Greenway to remind users to distance and wear a face covering. Courtesy of Brooklyn Greenway Initiative

The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway has actually experienced a record number of bikers and pedestrian traffic since the beginning of May. According to Schwartz, “BGI’s sensor measuring traffic on Greenway in front of NCL has seen record-breaking bike and pedestrian traffic, with more than 10K bikers every weekend day since the beginning of May (getting up to 15K one day). Our previous recorded high last year was 3500 in a day.” As New York City entered phase 1 re-opening last week, the NCL was deemed safe to open to the excited and nature-loving public, with capacity limitations. BGI is also mounting 100 COVID-safety signs along the entire 26-mile greenway to ensure people are following social distancing protocols. BGI hopes to have the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway fully completed by the end of 2021, an initiative over 15 years in the making that got its latest from the Regional Plan Association, which has called for a Five Borough Bikeway to address the new transportation reality of the COVID-19 world.

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