Governors Island is Open! Q&A with Clare Newman, President & CEO, Trust for Governors Island

As New York starts to re-open, we’re excited to get out and explore the city. Top of our list? Governors Island.

This site is a long-time OHNY Weekend partner—we first brought visitors to tour the island in 2004, before it officially opened to the public—and, on June 8, will host Opening the City: Spring Benefit 2021, a fundraiser that will honor the Trust for Governors Island with OHNY’s Open City Award.

We recently chatted with Clare Newman, President and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island about equity, ice cream, and everything New Yorkers can look forward to when they visit the island.

OHNY: Governors Island opened to the public on May 1. Congrats! Tell us a little about what visitors can look forward to this season.

Clare Newman: Thank you! We reopened last weekend, and it was an incredible feeling to welcome New Yorkers back to Governors Island, and to see so many people enjoying the park. It goes without saying, but COVID impacted our city so drastically, and the importance of our parks and cultural spaces has never been more apparent.

This year, we will be open every day through October 31 and are really encouraging visitors to come out and enjoy the Island’s wide open park space, take in the views, and hop on a bicycle while enjoying the feeling of being a world away. Our fantastic arts and cultural programming will also return, including free programs from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the New Art Dealers Alliance, MoCADA, American Indian Community House, Billion Oyster Project and more. We just opened our 2021 public art commission, a new mural by Duke Riley which explores the history of New York Harbor, and the impact of climate change on our waterways.

A visit to the Island is not complete without a visit to one of the many food businesses operating here. We have almost 20 vendors returning, including brick oven pizza, Jamaican jerk chicken, Thai-style papaya salads, and cocktails overlooking the Lower Manhattan skyline.

In 2019, nearly one million New Yorkers visited Governors Island with representation from every zip code in the city. Can you share some of your efforts to provide equitable access to the Island? How many New Yorkers are you hoping to welcome in 2021?

We view Governors Island as an amazing resource for the entire city. We’re really proud of the fact that our visitors reflect the diversity of the communities that make up the five boroughs and are constantly working to reach more New Yorkers, and much of that is in thanks to our outreach efforts, and strategic partnerships with over two dozen cultural organizations who help draw visitors who might not normally come to just enjoy the park.

In the last few years, we’ve really doubled our efforts to partner with community organizations throughout the city to invite more New Yorkers to visit the Island, and have expanded free ferry access for seniors, children and residents of NYCHA. We’ve also worked to expand ferries, including to Red Hook, which was incredibly popular in 2020 and returns this year. Ferry expansion is a key goal of ours, and we’re particularly committed to reaching communities with less access to open space.

Mayor de Blasio recently described Governors Island as “One of New York City’s crown jewels.” What would you say to encourage visitation to folks who have yet to make the trek across the harbor?

Part of the sell is the journey, and my main pitch is that the ferry is part of the magic of Governors Island. The ferry is easy, accessible, and is one of the most joyful parts of the visit. The ride has a calming effect, and the views of the city from a boat are just unmatched. Once you arrive, there’s so much to discover.

Governors Island lightning round: Favorite spot? Favorite viewshed? Favorite off-the-radar (or little-known) fact? Slides or hammock? Oysters or ice cream?

Favorite spot – Nolan Park, a collection of two dozen former military homes. The houses are incredibly charming and host our seasonal cultural programs.
Favorite view shed – The view from the Parade Ground, with the skyline peeking behind Fort Jay. It showcases the special feeling of New York’s history meeting the present, and future.
Favorite little known fact – During the Island’s history as the largest Coast Guard base in the US, it was home to the only Burger King that sold beer.
Slides or Hammock – Hammock
Oysters or Ice cream – Ice Cream!

Last but not least, tell us about the sheep …

The sheep are our newest, and by far most popular employees. They are spending the summer with us from Tivoli Farms and Preserve in Albany to help us control the invasive species in Hammock Grove. Sheep have a taste for herbaceous weeds, and will be grazing on them all summer. This is an eco-friendly solution that helps our horticulture team focus on caring for the area’s 1,200 young trees.

Governors Island is open every day through October 31, 2021, 10:00am to 6:15pm on weekdays and 10:00am to 7:00pm on weekends. The Island’s 2020 health, safety and social distancing protocols remain in place for 2021 to ensure a safe environment for all visitors. See visitor info