Ragusa noted that the shorefront park — as well as others, like Kaiser Park, Marine Park and Jamaica Bay — are perfectly situated for field biology programs.
“As an educator, I know how important it is to capture students’ interest. While formal classroom instruction is essential, I believe that field studies are important adjuncts to education, especially for STEM (science,technology, engineering and mathematics) programs. Southern Brooklyn can not only provide a superb natural laboratory but the foundation for ecotourism, which will provide a wide variety of jobs,” he said.
He added that southern Brooklyn also has the potential to become a center for ecotourism in New York City, especially for bird watching enthusiasts. Ragusa referred to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports which showed that bird watchers spent $15 billion on trips and $26 billion on equipment in 2011.
Turning Calvert Vaux — which is known for attracting more bird species than Central Park and its horseshoe crab habitat — into a mecca for bird enthusiasts, tourists, and naturalists would be a boon to Brooklyn’s economy, Ragusa continued.
“Ecotourism provides a significant portion of the economy of other states, for example, Alaska, as well as for the nation of Costa Rica. New York City is sitting on top of a financial and educational bonanza that is literally at our doorstep. Local birding lists often have enquiries from out of state and international tourists about local birding hot spots.”
As we’ve reported, Calvert Vaux — which is largely constructed out of landfill from the building of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge — was tapped in 2007 for a massive revitalization project by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, one that would turn the green space into a regional park. But after recession-related budget cuts hit, followed by a required environmental cleanup that turned out to be pricier than expected, the plan was thrown to the wayside.
Though the $40 million plan included three baseball fields, six soccer fields, kayak launches, picnic areas, a central lawn, a bicycle path, nature trails, an amphitheater, a playground, and a recreation center, the park ended up with just two soccer fields and a parking lot.
Ragusa — who is running for re-election against Billy Thai and has been criticized by foes for being a no-show district leader for the last few years — added that he has already discussed some of his ideas with local environmental groups and plans to meet with local elected officials in the coming weeks.
“We have everything to gain and nothing to lose”, said Ragusa. “Everything is already in place — transportation, eateries, and a large workforce. Ecotourism would provide jobs for not only naturalists and scientists, but jobs for landscapers, bus drivers, restaurant workers and tour guides. There is even an opportunity for art and photography programs.”
The election for district leader takes place on September 13. Read more about the race here.