Summer Updates from Governors Island

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Governors Island has been open to the public since July, and we’ve been thrilled to provide New Yorkers with much needed open space during the COVID-19 pandemic. As summer winds down, we’re excited to share a few updates about this season thus far.

Our 2020 public season has presented unique challenges and offered unique opportunities. While our public opening was initially delayed due to COVID-19, the Island opened to the public on July 15 with a new set of health and safety measures in place and a goal of providing more equitable access to the Island for all New Yorkers.

A major feature of the enhanced health and safety measures is our new timed ticketing system. By requiring visitors to reserve tickets both to and from the Island, the new ticketing system allows us to maintain low capacity on our ferries to ensure that social distancing remains possible during the trip.

This year, the Trust for Governors Island also shifted Brooklyn ferry service from Pier 6 to Red Hook / Atlantic Basin in order to reach a wider audience, particularly NYC communities underserved by public space. Additionally, free rides were extended to all residents of NYCHA housing for the entire season. So far, residents of NYCHA housing, IDNYC holders, and current and former military servicemembers, all of whom ride for free, have reserved over 16% of all tickets this year.

Masks are required while boarding and riding Governors Island ferries at all times. Photo by Radhika Chalasani

To date, over 100,000 visitors have taken the ferry to Governors Island since we reopened the Island in July. More than 40% of tickets reserved have been free of charge, including over 23% as free rides available to all visitors before noon on weekends.

4heads Artist in Residence Jean Foos’ studio on Colonels Row. Image courtesy the arist

Another major change this year has seen the historic houses of Nolan Park and Colonels Row rededicated as workspace for artists and cultural workers. The Trust for Governors Island, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and 18 arts and culture organizations joined forces to introduce the Governors Island Residency Initiative to provide the space in response to the effects of COVID-19. LMCC’s Arts Center and the houses awarded through our Open Call for 2020 programming organizations provide enough space for over 115 artists chosen by the organizations to work in the buildings through the rest of the public access season. You can learn more about the artists in residence here.

GrowNYC’s Teaching Garden in the Urban Farm. Photo by Vitally Pitlzer

Nolan Park and Colonels Row aren’t the only areas on the Island finding new use. GrowNYC’s Teaching Garden in the Urban Farm shifted focus this year from educating visitors and school groups about urban agriculture to full-on food production. They’re aiming to produce 20,000 pounds of food this year, which will be distributed to New Yorkers whose food security has been threatened by the effects of COVID-19. Across the road, Earth Matter’s Compost Learning Center has remained focused on its mission of processing food waste and compostable materials collected on the Island and elsewhere into valuable compost to be distributed to gardens across the City. Both sites are open for passive visits on weekends, 12-4pm.

Governors Island-based Billion Oyster Project has also had a banner summer, between installing their first community reef in Queens and huge new tanks across the channel in Red Hook that can support up to 50 million juvenile oysters at once.

It was a record-breaking year for the Friends of Governors Island’s volunteer program, too, with over 130 new volunteers joining 45 returning volunteers. This amazing group of volunteers helps welcome and orient visitors and works alongside our gardening team to tend to the Island’s 120 acres of open space. So far they’ve provided a 131% increase in hours of service as compared to last year, demonstrating the impact every day New Yorkers can have giving back to the city they love.

Pizza Yard, one of the Island’s new vendors in 2020, at the south end of Colonels Row. Photo by Timothy Schenck

The Island’s food and beverage options are more robust than ever this year with all13 of 2019’s vendors returning plus four new ones. Almost all are small businesses based in New York, and between them offer a globe-spanning selection of cuisines. This includes longtime favorites like Little Eva’s and Fauzia’s Heavenly Delights, Soissons Landing mainstays Island Oyster and Taco Vista, and newcomers like Pizza Yard, serving up Neapolitan-style pies on Colonels Row, and Terry & Yaki, whose teriyaki bowls come in vegan and halal varieties.

Visitors ride a surrey from Blazing Saddles. Photo by Timothy Schenck

This year marks the Trust for Governors Island’s tenth anniversary as the stewards of 150 acres of Governors Island. Head over to our blog to see highlights from the past decade as we look forward to the next one. We’ve been thrilled to welcome so many visitors to the Island this year to enjoy its sweeping parkland, scenic historic district, wide selection of food and drink vendors and more.

If you haven’t visited yet this year, you’ve still got time. Governors Island is open until November 1 for biking, hiking, grilling, or just hanging out in a hammock. We’d love to welcome you ashore.