Governors Island is open for the winter. Will New Yorkers visit?

One weekend in mid-December, about 2,600 people took the ferry to Governors Island, an artistic green space and former New York Harbor military outpost, for the opening of its first Winter Village. There was an ice rink, melting a bit from the unusually warm temperatures for the season, but tough enough that families could turn around. Visitors stretched out in Adirondack chairs around a bonfire or played cornhole. Others sipped coffee at the Arts Center, the only covered place that was open, watching the ferries come and go from Manhattan.

“It’s good now, but imagine what it will be like when it snows,” said Ira Mittal, 21, a New York University student who had gone to relax with a friend between her exams. “I would love to go sledding; I’m from Singapore so snow is always new to me, ”she said. “I will definitely come back. “

But will other New Yorkers leave their cozy apartments to brave the winds and freezing temperatures to ice skate and hot chocolate on an island accessible only by boat?

The pandemic, which is on the rise again, could inspire them. For the first time, with its Winter Village, the island, a popular summer destination, offers visitors a program in cold weather. The Trust for Governors Island, which oversees operations for the 172-acre respite from urban sprawl, is also planning a mobile sauna and dog run in January and an ice sculpting competition in February. In snowy weather, there will be sledges, snowshoes and possibly cross-country ski rentals.

“We had to think about what we could add to this island that would make it a place New Yorkers want to come to in cold weather,” said Clare Newman, president and CEO of the trust. “For this to work, a lot of people must have believed that the island could be a positive draw for New Yorkers not only on a beautiful day in July, but also on the coldest day in December.”

Some adventurous New Yorkers are interested.

Phil Caracci, 64, a retired software consultant who lives in Murray Hill, enjoys having a new and expansive outdoor space to use, he said, especially with the Omicron variant spreading throughout. the city. “Especially since we are looking more on the outside than the inside, it’s good to have another option,” he said. “It’s such a peaceful place, you’d never know you’re a stone’s throw from Manhattan or Brooklyn.”

He said he would visit even when temperatures drop. “I have tons of ski equipment,” he said. “If you ski in the North East you know what minus 20. I’m not easily scared of the cold. We are New Yorkers; we accept the fact that we have seasons.

Over the decades, Governors Island has rarely been completely empty during the winter. Army forces were stationed here between the two world wars, and a large Coast Guard installation from the 1960s to the 1990s attracted thousands of residents year round. The New York Harbor School, a public high school that trains students in marine and environmental professions, is open during the school year. And anyone who works with the Billion Oyster Project, an environmental nonprofit, or has an artist residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council here, has also been on the island in the cold and snow.

“I was actually here last winter for an artist residency and got to see the island after a blizzard, and it’s fun,” said Joseph Pinlac, who is now a guide and gardener at Governors Island. He explained that the island uses snow plows, but parts of it are left untouched after a big storm for recreation. “One day as I was walking I was tempted to make snowshoes with twigs.”

Mr. Caracci, who owns cross-country skis, is eager to glide across vast expanses of unplugged snow. “With Central Park you have to get there early in the morning to beat the crowds and the plows,” he said. “I would definitely go here to ski instead. “

But New York is not Vermont, which means there could be plenty of cold, windy, and snowless days ahead.

Michael Jarrells, who lives in Brooklyn and visited Governors Island in December, is not convinced he will return in February. “We had fun ice skating today, but it’s not enough,” he said. “To be here in the cold, they would have to open more indoors.”

So far, winter attracts far fewer visitors than in summer, when a typical weekend day can bring up to 10,000 visitors to the island, according to the trust. The opening day of the Winter Village, in mild weather, attracted 1,400 people.

Bruce Monroe, who has run the tour guides program and has volunteered on the island for a decade, said winter visitors have been slow and steady but the number of registrations for the tours has been in the figures. , against “as much as 20” per day during the summer.

At Blazing Saddles, the island’s bike rental company, which will also rent winter gear like snowshoes, bike rentals have increased to 10 or 15 a day, up from thousands a day in summer, according to Barry London, who works at the store. . “We even sell gloves for $ 5,” he said. “It’s new to us.”

But Mr. Monroe seems ready and even inspired by the challenge of making Governors Island a winter getaway for locked-in New Yorkers.

“A few years ago they had a party for the volunteers at the commander’s house and they put all these Christmas lights on the pines, and there was a layer of snow on the ground, and I just thought, “This could be a beautiful Christmas village,” he said. “Now we have one. “

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