By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
That rumbling sound you heard Wednesday night may not have been fireworks.
It just might have been the distant thunder of thousands of spectators trying to cram into East River State Park on the Williamsburg waterfront, in the hours before the Fourth of July fireworks were set to go off.
So many were drawn to the park, in fact, that officials decided to close the gates just a few minutes before the display began, prompting many to cry foul.
“It’s the only decent place in Brooklyn to see the fireworks,” said one disappointed viewer, who ended up watching the show from a nearby ferry landing.
Karen Phillips, director of the NYC Region of NYS Parks & Recreation, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday, “By 7 p.m. the staff said that hordes were coming in. We just did not expect these crowds. When we discovered there were more than three thousand people in the park, many bringing in alcohol, we realized that we were not equipped to handle them. It became overwhelming, and at 9 p.m. we shut the gates.”
So many people were pouring into the park “crowd control became an issue,” John Phillips, a park supervisor who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, told the Eagle on Thursday. “It just got to the point where we had to lock the doors.”
The lucky 4,000 or so visitors who were actually inside the seven-acre park by about 9 p.m. were allowed to stay inside and watch, while the ever-growing crowd outside the gates was turned away.
“Just got back from there — the park closed at 9 p.m. so it was pointless even entering,” one out-of-luck spectator commented on the McBrooklyn blog. “Ended up going to the spot right next to the ferry, which was not a bad view in general but pretty lame for photography since the angle completely missed the best part of the Manhattan skyline.”
“People already inside the park were allowed to stay,” said another, who managed to get inside before the gates were closed. “All in all it was a pleasant experience. The park employees were very helpful and nice.”
Once a local secret, East River State Park was extolled this year as one of the few places where the Fourth of July fireworks (or at least the higher ones) could be seen from Brooklyn.
Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Williamsburg), who was instrumental in building the waterfront park, told the New York Daily News before Wednesday’s celebration, "It's an incredible place to watch the fireworks; you’re right on the water.”
Apparently, Brooklynites — starved for a glimpse of what some are starting to call “the New Jersey fireworks” since they moved to the Hudson River four years ago — took his word to heart. Supervisor Phillips, a big fan of Assemblyman Lentol, wishes the Assemblyman had added, “‘It’s not like the West Side Highway.’
“I don’t think people understood that,” Phillips said. “They probably assumed the park was on the Hudson, there were that many people.”
“Nobody was unruly,” he added. “We’re very in tune with the neighborhood, and as friendly as we can possibly be. But for safety reasons we had to eyeball the crowd size. By around 8:30 or so we guestimated we had about 4,000 — a lotta, lotta, lotta folks. And only four state park employees.”
Director Phillips promised that the park would be ready for its newfound popularity by next July 4.
“Next year we’ll be prepared,” she said. “Lot’s of work is being done to get ready for next year. Please come — but leave your alcohol at home.”
Assemblyman Lentol, on vacation, personally called the Brooklyn Eagle and offered a mea culpa.
“I think I’m partially responsible for the crowd,” he said. “I bragged it had such great views.”