For about four months, as the pandemic bore down on New York City, an island had been left practically deserted in New York Harbor.
In a typical year, as spring turns into summer, Governors Island becomes packed with picnickers and families on bicycles; tour groups weave through the island’s intricate paths and lines of sun-kissed couples form for the next ferry back to the mainland.
But the pandemic forced the stewards of the island to close it to the public to prevent a pleasant summer getaway from turning into a super-spreader event.
It wasn’t until last month, when outdoor attractions like zoos and botanical gardens were preparing to open, that Governors Island did as well. On July 15, it welcomed its first visitors of the pandemic era, and the next day, so did the High Line in Manhattan. In Brooklyn Bridge Park, more than three acres of new parkland had recently opened for strolling and lounging.
The picnickers and bicyclists were welcomed back to the island, as were the pedestrians looking to amble down the elevated pathway of the High Line — but this time, they would only be able to walk in one direction, northward, to aid in social distancing.
What is different about these visits is that there is not the same opportunity for spontaneity. Gone are the days of impulsive ferry rides to Governors Island; instead, visitors must book ferry tickets online in advance. And to visit the High Line, there are free timed entry passes to reduce congestion (though a limited number of walk-up passes are available).
Other rules turn these day trips into a more regimented experience: Markers on the ground of the High Line show how far visitors must stand from one another, and people are only allowed to use the southernmost entrance on Gansevoort Street near the Whitney Museum.
On Governors Island, tours remain canceled and two historical monuments — Castle Williams and Fort Jay — are closed.
Still, there is plenty of fun to be had, and New Yorkers are coming out to find it. JULIA JACOBS