With the sounds of children enjoying a swing set in the background, the Town of Cortlandt dedicated the Jim Martin Aviation Playground at Cortlandt Waterfront Park in Verplanck Thursday afternoon.
“This is why we’re here, for the kids,” Supervisor Linda Puglisi said in reference to the youngsters as she opened the ceremony just a few feet from the edge of the Hudson River. About 40 people attended.
The playground, on the site of a former seaplane base, is the latest addition over the past two decades to the town’s waterfront facilities, which include an emergency boat launch, a great lawn, overlook, pavilion, fishing pier, historical markers and the recently dedicated Veteran’s Memorial Park.
The handicap-accessible playground cost $50,000 and takes its theme from the seaplane base. It is named for the late James Marsh Woodrow “Jim” Martin, an aviation enthusiast who owned the 6-acre base and other waterfront property. Martin donated his entire 26 acres (including the base, a mobile home park and waterfront area) to the town in 1991, with the proviso that residents of the mobile homes could continue to live there for a maximum of 10 years, after his death, which occurred July 3, 2006.
Martin was born in East Preston, Worthing, England Sept. 7, 1918, the only son among 10 children, Puglisi told the gathering as she reviewed the highlights of his life. His family moved to Greenwich, CT, in 1921. Martin developed an interest in aviation and, at the start of World War II, still a British citizen, enlisted in the Royal Air Force and served as an aircraft mechanic and flight instructor. In July 1944 he became a U.S. citizen and transferred to the U.S. Army. He joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1949 and served until 1953.
He and his father bought the Verplanck property in the 1940s and began operating the Peekskill Seaplane Base in 1950. Concerned about the need for housing after the war, they also developed the mobile home park. As recently as 2004-05 the base averaged about 85 aircraft operations a month, or almost 1,200 a year. It was officially delisted by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2007.
Martin still flew once a week when he was well into his 70s. He operated a small flight school and flew sightseeing tours down the Hudson to the Statue of Liberty and upriver to West Point.
Martin, described by Puglisi as “a man of generous spirit,” refused offers to sell the site, she said, preferring to see it preserved, not overdeveloped. “We are truly grateful for this philosophy, we are truly grateful to our dear friend Jim Martin,” she said.
Planned enhancements to the site include a public boat launch next year, with construction scheduled so it will not disturb spawning fish. A rowing school and an Olympic-size volleyball court are under consideration and a wetlands enhancement project is in the works across Riverview Avenue. Puglisi encouraged residents to share suggestions for the site.
Chris Kehoe, deputy director for planning of the town Department of Technical Services, noted that the multiuse site is one of few along the Hudson that offers direct public access to the river because the railroad tracks that hug the water’s edge for most of the way between New York and the Albany area curve inland at that point. Kehoe, who chairs the Cortlandt Waterfront Park Committee, said two hangars near the playground had been preserved and cleaned up. Potential uses include storage of personal watercraft and small boats for a fee.
John Palmiotto, director of recreation and conservation, offered a visionary perspective as he recalled his own playground experience as a youngster. “We hope this playground will yield great memories for parents and kids,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to keep this great piece of property beautiful.”
Town Board members Dr. Richard Becker and Ann Lindau Martin (no relation) joined Puglisi in unveiling the plaque at the entrance to the playground.
Puglisi profusely thanked her colleagues in town government, the Waterfront Park Committee and all who help make the project a reality.