Take the B31 bus to the last stop at the end of Gerritsen Avenue, and you’ll arrive at what locals call “the Point,” a sandy strip of unguarded shoreline at the southern tip of Brooklyn’s 900-acre Marine Park.
This land was originally intended to be one of New York City’s largest and most ambitious public spaces, with grand designs that included a 100,000-seat stadium, nine swimming pools, and enough recreational facilities to cover 1,800 acres of parkland. But the project was sidelined by the Great Depression and drastically scaled back by the time it resumed in the late 1940s. Mountains of garbage were transferred to the site and covered with topsoil to fill in 1,000 acres of swampy marshland, but in some areas, the work stopped there. Today, large sections of the park remain undeveloped. As a result, the westernmost banks of Gerritsen Creek boast a degree of wildness that you wouldn’t expect to find within the city limits.
Hitting a hiking trail from the Point, you’re headed “back weeds,” as locals say, which isn’t as much a place name as it is a direction — or a state of mind. Teenagers with few other places to hang out or make trouble have laid claim to the forgotten edges of the park, marking their territory with fire pits, campsites, and paintball fields. Dirt bikes and ATVs hurtle along dirt paths past sculptural pile-ups of abandoned cars. Back weeds, anything goes, and the status quo is fiercely defended. Park improvements are often undone by serious acts of arson and vandalism.
Despite these issues, Marine Park still shows off the understated beauty of the Jamaica Bay watershed. Spend an afternoon wandering the back weeds, and you’ll begin to understand their appeal. The weeds transport you — somewhere secluded, mysterious, wild.