The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Queens Chronicle Article

The following article just appeared in the Queens Chronicle. Before reading it, keep in mind that at the November 28th meeting with park officials, breeching the retaining wall of basin 3 (the largest) was not an option, but a priority. That action, alone, would have a huge, negative effect on the forest. The parks department's spokesperson asserted that any tree that they would remove are of lower value for habitat as they are non-native species. It's interesting to note that of the 42 species of trees recommended by the department of parks for planting in NYC, only 15 are native to North America.

The Queens Chronicle - 2/20/2007

City Mulls Three Options For Ridgewood Reservoir

by Colin Gustafson, Assistant Managing Editor

City officials say they’re still mulling the possibility of axing acres of lush vegetation in the Ridgewood Reservoir in order to clear space for new athletic facilities.

But preservationists continue to object to the plan, saying it threatens the area’s native plant species and migratory birds.

Built in Highland Park in 1858 to supply water to eastern Brooklyn, the reservoir serviced tens of thousands of residents until it was closed in 1959. The following year, the city drained two of the site’s three non-working water basins, eventually causing a huge growth of trees, grass and marshland.

Now, officials from the Department of Parks and Recreation are considering clear-cutting a portion of the third and largest basin under one of three options for redeveloping the 50-acre reservoir.

The proposals come as part of a $400 million project to refurbish Highland Park under the mayor’s long-term environmental mission to have a park within 10 minutes of every New Yorker by 2030.

At the reservoir, the most extreme development option calls for transforming the third basin — home to dense forest and vernal marshland — into an “active recreation center,” replete with running tracks, soccer fields and cricket courts, officials said.

A second option would preserve much of the reservoir as a “naturalistic park” with some outdoor “adventure type recreation,” according to Parks Department spokeswoman Abigail Lootens.

The most conservative option — and the one favored by preservationists — would leave the reservoir’s three basins largely untouched by developers and steer funding toward converting an old building on the reservoir into a nature education center.

Still, it’s the first option that bothers nature lovers, who say they’re furious over the prospect of forfeiting their beloved green spaces for synthetic turf fields.

“These basins are three distinct natural habitats — a bog, a lake and an emerging forest,” said Rob Jett, a 52-year-old amateur bird watcher who opposes the tree-toppling plan. “How many places in the city have these beautiful habitats side-by-side?”

Since closing to the public in 1989, these habitats have become home to a bevy of different mammals, amphibians, endangered plant species and more than 120 types of migratory and nesting birds. Now, nature lovers fear all this wildlife will be at risk if the city bulldozes the forest.

Not to worry, Parks officials assured this week. “The portion where we would possibly remove trees is of lower habitat value because it hosts many non-native trees,” Lootens explained. “We believe this will not displace or harm the bird or plant populations.”

However, even if the wildlife remains out of harm’s way, preservationists still believe the idea of wiping out as much as 20 acres of forest runs counter to one of the mayor’s key reasons for refurbishing Highland Park: to make trees, grass and others green space more accessible to the public.

Last month, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe argued in favor of building new athletic space, arguing that Queens is home to plenty of parkland already, but suffers from a shortage of recreational opportunities.

He believes the creation of new public athletic spaces at the reservoir will help combat pervasive health problems, like heart disease, obesity and diabetes, especially among children.

But critics say the park already abounds with recreational facilities, including a band shell, numerous open fields and baseball diamonds — many of which are run down.

Instead of clearing the reservoir to create new facilities, critics believe the city should simply take better care of the old ones. “The commissioner’s point about ... health is a legitimate concern, but not a legitimate argument, especially if we’re talking about destroying a beautiful natural habitat” Jett said. “There’s a huge amount of space in Highland Park that the city could spend more time renovating, first.”

Parks officials have vowed to heed such input from the community as they decide on the feasibility of the three development options. After finalizing a design sometime next year, the agency will also present its plan to local community boards and elected officials in Queens for approval.

In the meantime, Jett says he’ll keep fighting to preserve the reservoir in its entirety. “I think we just have to keep moving on the route we’ve been on,” he said, “and try to keep the basins as they are, all three at a time.

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