BY KULSOOM KHAN
On the other side of the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge lies Broad Channel. The neighborhood is the only populated island on Jamaica Bay. It has a population of only 3,000. Surrounded by water on all sides, its only connection to mainland Queens is two bridges and one subway.
For many years, Broad Channel was a remote fishing village. This predominantly working-class Caucasian neighborhood had the opportunity to grow after Cross Bay Boulevard opened in 1924. Prior to European settlement, the Jameco and Canarsie bands of Lenape Native Americans inhabited the area. During the 17th century, Dutch settlers established a community on the island and began harvesting oysters, clams, shrimp, and fish.
In 1915, the city leased the island to the Broad Channel Corporation, which in turn leased properties to private individuals for the development of summer bungalows and houses. The island gained popularity as a quaint and relaxing retreat for city dwellers seeking a break from the everyday hustle and bustle of urban life.
Broad Channel is within the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, which is part of the U.S. parks system. Boating and fishing is a way of life for some residents. Smity’s Fishing Station is a popular facility for boat rentals.
Since water is literally everywhere in Broad Channel, naturally the island is vulnerable to flooding in extreme weather situations. Artificial canals separate dead-end residential streets. There is no natural gas line to the neighborhood, and residents use costlier propane to heat their homes.
To get to any place on the island by car, one has to use a bridge. To the north, Addabbo Memorial Bridge connects to Howard Beach. To the south, the Cross Bay Bridge leads to the Rockaways peninsula.
Broad Channel Park, which opened in May 1995 is located at the southernmost end of Broad Channel along Jamaica Bay. It consists of two grass baseball fields, one asphalt baseball field, four basketball standards, a roller hockey rink, and a small play area.
Another park in Broad Channel is Gene Gray Park, named after community activist Gene Gray. Gray was involved in many neighborhood youth programs. He also served as the president of the Broad Channel Athletic Club and was a community football coach for more than twenty years. After his death in 1973, Broad Channel Civic Association and Queens Community Board 14 decided to name the park after Gray to recognize his years of volunteer work and dedication to the neighborhood’s youth.
The Fire Department of New York does not have a fire station on Broad Channel, but the community has a volunteer fire company, a nonprofit organization that works with local FDNY units. Established in 1905, the Broad Channel volunteer fire department is one of only nine volunteer firehouses in the city of New York.