People had come to Dennis Collins Park on April 27 to plant a tree, not witness a piece of history.
In fact, the gathering of environmentalists and Department of Public Works employees weren’t scheduled to come to that part of the city at all, but had changed plans at the last minute.
The original Arbor Day ceremony had been slated for Sister Miriam Teresa Park on East 23rd Street, where two trees were to be planted, but it had been shifted to Dennis Collins Park where a third tree was planted near the Kill Van Kull.
So for this reason, nature lovers and D.P.W. workers were on hand to watch the historic last flight of the Enterprise shuttle as it passed over Staten Island, then came north along the Bayonne Bridge for its flight up the west coast of Bayonne to visit Newark.
“Can you believe this?” asked Susan Hill from the Bayonne Nature Club, looking out across the Kill Van Kull as the Enterprise rode the back of a jet over the low hills of Staten Island. “I can’t believe we’re actually seeing it.”
Starting out as a tiny speck emerging out of a cloud bank near New York Harbor, the Enterprise arrived over Staten Island shortly after 11 a.m., riding the back of a 747 modified to carry it.
Destined for a final home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River near 44th Street, the Enterprise flew past some of the icons of New York Harbor, including Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, before making its way down across the Kill Van Kull for a flight over Staten Island.
“You can see its fighter escort,” one of the Bayonne DPW workers shouted when the craft appeared, flying below the clouds but just above the church steeples and cranes decorating the Staten Island waterfront.
Just west of the Bayonne Bridge, the craft turned north, flying about level with the traffic span of the bridge so that drivers in vehicles could easily make out the craft as it made its way north to Newark, and then finally back towards New York and Kennedy Airport, where it would be temporarily located until transported to the museum by barge later.
The shuttle was originally scheduled to make this flight on April 23, but bad weather postponed the flight until the 27.
The shuttle was being transported from its previous home at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to become the most significant space artifact on the Intrepid, and perhaps in this part of the nation.
The shuttle is expected to be transported to the Intrepid in June and will be placed in a pavilion on the ship’s flight deck and is expected to be open to the public in July.
The Intrepid itself was housed briefly in Bayonne three years ago when it underwent renovation, and was later transported to Staten Island for internal reconstruction.
The Enterprise’s arrival in New York signifies the end of the shuttle program and various shuttle spacecraft are located in museums across the nation.
Although considered the first orbiter in the shuttle fleet, the Enterprise never went into space, but was used as a training facility in the atmosphere. At one point, NASA had planned to outfit it for space, but never did.
“We take pride in the fact that people here care about the environment and nature, and do what they can to raise awareness.” – Ray Greaves
Meanwhile, down on earth in Dennis Collins Park, members of the Bayonne Nature Club planted the third of three trees as part of National Arbor Day.
“The two oak trees at Sister Miriam Teresa Park were planted as memorials,” Hill said. “One was donated by Lois Adlin in memory of Bernie Adlin and Paul Christenses. The other was donated by Susan and Larry Hill in memory of my parents Joseph, Theresa, and Mary Jancewicz, and my father and mother-in law Frank and Sophie Hill.”
Arbor Day was first observed in Nebraska on Jan. 4, 1872, when the state board of agriculture adopted a resolution providing for a day especially set apart for tree planting. Nebraska’s first Arbor Day resulted in the planting of more than one million trees. New Jersey has been celebrating Arbor Day since 1949, with the last Friday in April set aside by law to encourage the planting of trees.
While Bayonne has a very active environmental community, Arbor Day hasn’t had an official ceremony in years, so the Bayonne Nature Club decided to observe the tradition again.
Claire Greco is current president with about a dozen members that include Pat Hilliard, Susan Hill, Lois Adlin, Joan Brunner and Marion Cooney, who was also involved the establishing of the butterfly garden in Rutkowski Park two years ago.
Cooney said the group is also involved with waterfront cleanup operations, and recently conducted a clean up along the Newark Bay waterfront near the A&P Supermarket.
Hilliard is also the author of “Wild Birds in the Parks of Hudson County,” and the club organizes a number of birding events throughout the parks in the area. The club also organizes paddling trips, in which participants kayak or canoe on the Hudson and Hackensack rivers and around Newark Bay.
Councilman Ray Greaves, who attended the small ceremony, said it is important for the community to maintain its tree stock, saying that it is a way to make for a better environment.
“Bayonne has been named a Tree City for many years,” he said. “And we take pride in the fact that people here care about the environment and nature, and do what they can to raise awareness.”