Observing at Great Kills Park, Staten Island

Observing at Great Kills Park, Staten Island
By Joe DiNapoli

I’m Joe DiNapoli. I make the schedule for the AAA public observing at Great Kills Park, and I am the liaison with the National Park Service Rangers at GK. I also decide whether our event is cancelled due to uncooperative weather.

Our site is located approximately one mile into the Park from the intersection of Hylan Boulevard and Buffalo Street. It is at the southern corner of a large parking lot. If you plan to take public transportation, be prepared to walk one mile on an unlit asphalt path. You may see deer, osprey and owls among other wildlife. It is a safe walk as there are usually people walking or riding bikes. Most times we can arrange a ride from a departing participant back to Hylan Boulevard, sometimes even to the Staten Island Ferry.

If driving, be aware of the 25mph speed limit! You do not have to dim your car’s headlights, but please don’t shine them on the telescopes or use your high beams. There is an outhouse-style bathroom just next to our site. Other than the bathroom, there are no other services available.

Our site is in a National Park, which you cannot normally enter after hours. Check their website as hours are subject to change. During our public observing we have a permit to be there, and observing usually ends around 11PM There is one streetlight nearby that does shine some light on us, but I am in the process of trying get that baffled. The mosquitoes are very numerous and ravenous. But from what I hear, they are not as bad as at Floyd Bennett Field!

We view over the lower NY Bay so our best sky is from Southeast to Southwest up to zenith. Since we are in a parking lot, we have no real obstructions to the sky except for the light pollution to the North. Even so, since we are south of Manhattan, I think our sky is relatively dark. That said, the Milky Way is not visible.

When there is an ISS flyover, we always have a good apparition! We also have a good share of meteor and satellite sightings.

We have a loyal crew of amateurs that bring scopes and binoculars to share with the public, and I would like to thank them profusely.

We usually get at most three to ten telescopes. It’s usually the same people that help out. We set up in the corner of a large parking lot right next to a walking path. In the summertime, we set up while it’s still daylight, so many people who are walking, jogging or bike riding give us the strangest looks! Since most are indifferent New Yorkers, they just glance at us and keep walking, even after I wave for them to come look! When I yell, “It’s free!,” a few will come over.

The usual question is, “Is there something happening tonight?”

What particularly stands out at these observing sessions is the smile on peoples’ faces (even though it’s dark) when they see the Moon or planets through a telescope for the first time. This year, there were two women in their late twenties, who, after viewing Saturn for the first time, were actually jumping up and down with joy!