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Governor's Island opens for the season

DAMASO REYES | 4/12/2011, 4:34 p.m.

New York is too big, too complex and too vital for anyone person to know all of it. How many of us can say that we have been to all five boroughs this week? This month? This year? With all that the city has to offer it can see daunting just to take advantage of what is free, but try we must. On Memorial Day weekend, one of New York's true gems reopened for the summer season. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday this summer you can head down to the ferry terminal and catch a free ride out to Governor's Island where you will find music, performances and, most of all, plenty of cool, shady spots to picnic under.

No place in New York offers a better view of lower Manhattan than this island. Situated just offshore in New York harbor, Governor's Island is closer than Staten Island-and a lot more fun. The island, which was used by New York's Native American tribes and then the Dutch and English during colonization, has been a strategic military fort for over two hundred years. In its more modern incarnation it served as a U.S. Coast Guard facility from 1966 to 1996. The years that followed were tumultuous as the city, state and federal government fought over who should own and what should be done with the historic island. In 2002 the island was sold to the state of New York for one dollar and slowly since then plans have come and gone to develop the island. Can you imagine a casino in the middle of New York harbor? Or a hotel?

Cooler heads prevailed and now the undeveloped south side of the island will be turned into a 150 acre park in the coming years. But you don't have to wait that long to enjoy yourself. The north half of the island, which includes the old historic homes that once housed the Navy and Coast Guard officers, is open for exploration. The island is hosting ongoing as well as weekend events over the course of the summer.

June 21 and 22 is Army Heritage weekend featuring special tours and events highlighting the history of the island.

On June 2 and 29 Governor's Island will host the Figment Festival featuring exhibitions and interactive art displays.

Each Saturday in July will feature a different musical performer including Bearfoot, an Alaskan bluegrass band and the New York Philharmonic on July 5.

August 10 you can come to the island and witness a Civil War reenactment without having to go to Gettysburg.

But perhaps the best thing to do is sit under a tree, spread out a blanket and watch the boats flit hither and yon around lower Manhattan. Not only is the view great but the temperatures are much cooler in the harbor.

For more information including directions and ferry schedules visit http://www.govisland.com