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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tour with Comptroller Thompson

Monday afternoon, city Comptroller William Thompson, came out to learn more about Highland Park & the Ridgewood Reservoir issues. Also present were representatives of Assemblyman Darryl C. Towns and members of Brooklyn Community Board 5 .

I started the tour in the parking lot by pointing out the hillside across Vermont Place and that it is actually one of the retaining walls of basin #3. I also explained the "three options" scenario from the department of parks and how all choices currently entailed the removal of a section of that wall. The effect that opening the basin and removing vegetation would have on our environment ran counter to what several other city and state agencies were trying to accomplish. Those missions include reducing energy consumption, preventing the collapse of the Jamaica Bay Wetlands ecosystem and reducing combined sewer overflow.

As we began walking the running/cycling path next to basin #3 I told him about the diversity of birds that we've already identified, the endangered species of plants that were present and even the population of Italian Wall Lizards. Moments later a Meadow Vole scampered across the path in front of us and disappeared into the leaf litter. I said, "That's an new species for our list".

The fences blocking access to the paths between basins 1 & 2 and 2 & 3 had been cut, so we were able to walk the group along the inside pathways. I tried to cover all the different aspects of the area's historical significance, environmental importance and educational potential without overwhelming the comptroller with information. He was affable and seemed genuinely impressed by the reservoir habitats. We spoke easily about the potential for teaching children and adults about our environment and preparing for future green industries. I questioned him about Commissioner Lewandowski's assertion that the $50 million dollars can only be spent on the reservoir property and not surrounding Highland Park. His carefully worded answer was that her statement wasn't entirely accurate.

I made a point of discussing the reservoir in the larger context of Highland Park and how they should work as a single unit. It was made clear during conversations in the parking lot prior to and after the tour, that Highland Park has been neglected for a long time. The tour was about an hour long, but Mr. Thompson remained in the parking lot speaking with reporters and several of the other people on the tour. I came away from the tour feeling good about our contact with the comptroller. One of his final comments at the tour's conclusion was, "It's a stunning space - the elevation changes, the scenery changes. It's unique in New York City."

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Monday, January 28, 2008

New Link

I've just added a new link in the sidebar. It is to the NYS Department of Environment Conservation's "Conservation for Kids" magazine.

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Getting in Touch with Nature

The following is from an article in today's New York Times. You can read the entire article here.

January 28, 2008
In the Woods and Streams of New York State, an Artemis for Modern Times

By Lisa W. Foderaro

WATERFORD, N.Y. — Patricia Riexinger, the new director of New York State’s Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, stood in the falling snow here and peered through her binoculars, looking for bald eagles. Suddenly, a bird leapt from a tree and soared out of sight, and Ms. Riexinger, visibly excited, set off in pursuit, traversing streams and sloshing across muddy slopes.

A wildlife biologist who has spent more than 30 years in the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Ms. Riexinger was appointed last fall to lead the agency’s largest division. She is the first woman to preside over the agency, which, with a staff of 425, regulates all fishing and hunting in the state.

Ms. Riexinger (pronounced REX-in-jer), 53, a lean woman with silver-streaked hair pulled back in a clip, is also responsible for protecting an incredibly diverse array of animal species: 1,100 vertebrates and countless invertebrates, many of them increasingly threatened by habitat loss and the incursion of invasive species.

One of her goals, Ms. Riexinger said, is to restore a sense of wonder to a public that is increasingly out of touch with nature.

She asks a visitor: Did you know that New York is home to sea horses? Or that the most harvested fish, pound for pound, in the state’s ocean waters is squid? Or that the hognose snake lives only in sandy pine barrens from Saratoga to Long Island and feasts exclusively on toads?

“One of the biggest threats to conservation over time is from people losing contact with the natural world,” Ms. Riexinger said.

“Most kids, when they think of outdoor recreation, think of playing soccer on a mowed field. They’re not in the woods flipping over rocks and looking for salamanders or watching a squirrel root around.”

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Councilman Avella's Support

Below are copies of the letters that Councilman Tony Avella sent to the commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Protection Agency and commissioner of the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. (Click to enlarge)

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Artificial Turf issue

It is unclear whether or not the Department of Parks & Recreation has plans to install artificial turf at Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir. However they have installed 77 synthetic fields and there are 23 more under construction. Commissioner Benepe has stated several times that he believes it is a much better alternative to natural grass.

There has been an interesting development regarding the parks departments knowledge of the turf's safety health issues. The following is from an article in today's the New York Times:

"For more than a decade, the city’s Parks Department has extolled the environmental and safety benefits of replacing the grass or asphalt at dozens of its play spaces with synthetic material made from recycled tires, despite safety concerns expressed by some scientists and children’s advocates.

But on Tuesday, the department said it had asked the city health department to investigate potential health and safety problems associated with the synthetic material, even as it continued to insist the surfaces were safe.

“Understandably, there has been significant public interest in this issue, and we responded by asking the N.Y.C. department of health to look further into the issues,” the Parks Department said in a statement. “There is no public health danger at any of these fields.”"

The same article sites a parks internal memo that acknowledges known problems with the turf. This is from a similar article in Metro NY:

The debate over the city’s growing use of artificial turf took a surreal turn yesterday, after a watchdog group obtained an internal Parks Dept. memo that seemed to make New York the first city in America to declare a turf moratorium.

“We are suspending the use of rubber infill synthetic turf in all Parks Capital Projects,” said the design directive, dated Jan. 14.

The memo appeared to be a reaction to increasing health concerns over the new breed of artificial turf, which uses rubber pellets from recycled tires. These pellets contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects and other problems, yet most studies conclude more research is necessary to determine the possible risks. The city’s Health Dept. is preparing its own report.

But after the memo was revealed by the group NYC Park Advocates, the city replied it had made a mistake.

“I incorrectly made a blanket statement,” said Deputy Commissioner of Capital Projects Amy Freitag. “There is no change in Parks Dept.’s policy on synthetic turf.”

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January 12th Tour

The January 12th tour of Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir was a big success and was attended by 28 people. Present were representatives from:

Brooklyn Bird Club
Brooklyn Community Board #5
Center for Law and Social Justice
Glaeser Horticultural Consulting, Inc.
Highlanders East New York United Front
Juniper Park Civic Association
Liberty Park Homeowners Association
Make the Road by Walking
NYPD 104th precinct
Office of Assemblyman Darryl C. Towns
Office of U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
Queens County Bird Club
Ridgewood Democratic Club
Urban Environmental Youth Corps
West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT)

At the start of the walk, Capt. Keith Green of the 104th Precinct addressed the problems with paintball and ATVs at the park and reservoir. He said that the officers have a difficult time catching the kids, but that they've begun to confiscate the ATVs when they can catch them. He also said that the paintball folks are hard to catch, because it's difficult to get into the basins. I interrupted and said that I was present when paintball players were shooting their guns in one of the basins, within full view of several 104th precinct officers. His comment was that officer Solomanson has the second highest number of arrests in the precinct, but didn't offer any explanation for his lack of action during that incident. I noticed during the tour that most of the paintball player's detritus in the north end of basin 3 had been cleaned up.

We began the tour with a walk around the reservoir. Most of the people in the group remained when we continued with a stroll around Highland Park. It was clear to everyone on the tour that Highland Park has been neglected by the Department of Parks & Recreation for a long time. They had the same questions that we've been asking on this blog regarding the use of tax dollars for one thing, when they haven't fixed the obvious problems.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

No Renovation Money for Highland Park?

On Monday, January 14, four of us were invited to meet with Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski at the Ridgewood Reservoir. We were also joined by the park's administrator, Debbie Kuha, landscape manager, Helen (?) and Highland Park's manager, Felix. The meeting was primarily a walk around Upper Highland Park grounds pointing out alternative locations for active recreation, as well as, areas in need of serious maintenance or restoration. In addition, a short time was spent on the main field of Lower Highland Park. At no time did we walk around the reservoir.

It was a cordial and, somewhat, informative gathering. The outcome didn't really change anything regarding our mission, it only strengthened it. Early in our walk Commissioner Lewandowski made it very clear that there wasn't chance that any of the the $48 million would or could be spent on renovating Upper or Lower Highland Park. End of discussion. She did say that there was $2 million available for the Upper Park.

Late in the walk, a brief conversation regarding a nature sanctuary and education center was broached by Lewandowski. It sounded promising, but I think we should be cautiously optimistic, at best. I asked her why the money could not be spent on Highland Park proper and what is meant by "Highland Park's infrastructure". My reference was to the following taken from the Department of Parks & Recreation website:

"The $50 million that has been allocated will reconstruct Highland Park’s infrastructure and develop a new destination park. Potential improvements include a pedestrian network, new and enhanced active and passive recreation areas, new playgrounds, concessions and improved park structures."

I think she answered my question, I can't be certain. I do not understand how the city can tell the public that moneys are being allocated to a park and then only spend it on expanded new construction, not needed repairs and restoration of existing facilities. The commissioner was told that the surrounding communities would be very angry if they created a recreation facility in the reservoir and left the rest of the park in its current state.

If you read through the "Eric Goetz report" posting, you'll note that Highland Park has been in need of work for, at least, 6 1/2 years. It is also clear that the Department of Parks and Recreation has been aware of that fact.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

2001 Highland Park report

In 2001, the manager of Highland Park, Eric Goetz, prepared a report about the park. It lists current conditions and makes recommendations for needed improvements. Mr Goetz is currently the manager for Districts 6 & 7 in Queens. Many, if not all, of the conditions described in his report, still exists 7 years later. His recommendations fell on deaf ears, as the parks department wants to spend 48 million dollars to begin another project instead of fixing existing conditions. Does that mean when (and if) the planned reservoir section of Highland Park starts to deteriorate that it too will be ignored?

Highland Park - The Present and the Future
Prepared by Eric M. Goetz - July 2001


This brief report is to review the current conditions in Highland Park (Lower, Upper and the Reservoir) and provide ideas for the future of the park.

On the following page, there is a map of the park with the major facilities illustrated.

These facilities include:

• Two playgrounds.
• Two public comfort stations.
• Six turf ballfields
• Two bocce courts
• Four horseshoe pits (two full courts).
• Eight handball courts
• Thirteen all-weather tennis courts.
• Basketball courts.
• Part of the Brooklyn-Queens bike trail (starts at the entrance of Upper Highland Park runs through Upper Highland to the Reservoir, goes around the Reservoir and leads to Cypress Hills.
• The Statue of Virtue (honoring WW I veterans).
• An active Children's Garden.
• A parking lot with capacity of about 50 to 75 vehicles.

Statue of Virtue (photo) Upper Playground (photo)

Over the past five years, there have been a few projects which have upgraded the park, including:

• Upgrading the upper playground (Queens Requirement Contract).
• The building of a comfort station near ballfield 116 (Brooklyn Construction).
• Rehabing the 13 tennis courts (Brooklyn Construction).
• Installation of activity lights around ballfields 1 and 2 (Queens Construction).
• Repaving the pathway around the Reservoir as part of the Brooklyn/Queens Greenway (ISTEA funding).
• Replacing the roof on the building at the Children's Garden (BC Murphy intuitive).

In the future, there is funding for the reconstruction of ballfield #1. Parks is currently seeking additional funding to complete fields #1 and #2 at the same time.

Also during the past two years, Queens Borough Commissioner Richard Murphy has had the Arborist Apprentices in all parts of Highland Park and the Reservoir to prune trees to open up sight lines. In addition, over the past five to ten years, Parks has been cutting the grass and opening up sight lines around the Reservoir, even though this property has not been officially turned over to Parks from DEP.

For the past two years, Queens Parks (with Borough Commissioner Murphy's leadership) has been working with DEP to make the reservoir safe. In Summer 2001, as part of the remediation program for the Salem Field's lawsuit, the fence line around the bowls of the reservoir is being replaced, At the same time, vegetation is being cut back Below are photos of the before, during and after process.

Possible Ideas:

This section looks at possible ideas and Capital needs for the Park/Reservoir. All of the issues below require Capital funding and planning. However, one type of work can be done with a small amount of funding. This work involves the trees at all levels. Even though Queens Parks has completed a tremendous amount of tree work over the years, the park still requires much more attention. The idea of this work is to:

1. Improve safety (open up sight lines and remove dangerous conditions).
2. Make the park more inviting.
3. Improve the health of the existing trees (including proper pruning and the removal of vines).

Lower Highland Park

• Converting the old clay tennis courts into an astro turf field dedicated to youth soccer. Currently the area is bare and is used for adult soccer. Over the years, the area has seen many problems with illegal BBQs and drinking, plus public urination. The project would also include restoring the hex block paths on either side of this area.
• Redeveloping the old horseshoe pit bocce courts and checker table area into a non-BBQ picnic area. Currently, there is no official picnic area in the park and the items mentioned above are not used. This area is mainly used as a dog run or a pit-stop for the homeless.
• Developing the vacant area adjacent to the tennis courts (new and old) into a planted area to provide a buffer between the park and the houses along Sunnyside. This area is currently bare or covered with woodchips and used for illegal dumping (photo)
• Re-do the handball courts (floor, fencing and resurfacing the walls).
• Install erosion control on the hillsides. This could be done with plantings or other erosion control devices.

Upper Highland Park:

• Repaving the path system. The Greenway project did not repave any of the path system in Upper Highland.
• Restoration of the stone bridge, the path system and overlook areas. Much of this path system is in an advance stage of deterioration or has been covered by vegetation for over ten years. Security lighting is essential for this area since it is hidden from view but with restoration work, the area could become a focal point for the park.
• Restoration or the formal garden area. This area appears to have been used as a stage area for performances. When one looks outward from the stage area and the way the path and lighting system is set-up, this area could become an area for small concerts and shows. It is believed that there was a bathroom in stage area.
• Developing volleyball court area. Near the parking lot there is an asphalted area and the remains of a building foundation. There is room for developing three volleyball courts. Volleyball is the common use for this area now.
• Development of a non-BBO picnic area. This could be an area adjacent to the volleyball area.
• Reconstruction of the four ballflelds. Fields #3 and 4 need the most work and should be dedicated to little leagues. Fields #5 and 6 (photo) should be developed for softball and older leagues. I do not think that these fields can support adult baseball leagues (fields too small).

Ridgewood Reservoir:

• Restoring the path and staircase systems.
• Restoring and improving lighting along the path systems.
• Restoring the horticultural and lawn features.
• Developing an educational program revolving [around] the existing wetlands (bowl #2).
• If the other two bowls are transferred to Parks from DEP include them with the educational program.
• Reviewing the condition of the three buildings on the property and possibly developing one of them into an educational/bathroom/maintenance office. One idea is to re-build the caretakers shed since the area has space for a small parking area for employees or visitors.

Restoring of path system (photo)
Wetland Management (photo)
Re-developing one of the buildings (photo)

Other types of funding are needed for the park:

• Recreation - funding for teams, soccer and baseball clinics.
• Urban Park Services - educational programs.
• Maintenance - to maintain the overall park.

Basically with this type of development, Highland Park could provide:

1. Recreational complex on the lower level
2. Family oriented atmosphere on the upper level.

3. Combination of recreational/educational atmosphere around the reservoir.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Daily News Article

The following article just appeared in the New York Daily News. It appears that, from the parks department's comments, that they have considerably tempered their publicly declared plans for the reservoir. You can leave your comments on the Daily News website.

As you read the article keep in mind that Highland Park, which encloses the Ridgewood Reservoir, already has the following, poorly maintained facilities:

2 playgrounds
2 comfort stations
6 ballfields
2 bocce courts
4 horseshoe pits
8 handball courts
13 tennis courts
8 basketball courts
1 children's garden.

In addition, there is a 1 1/4 mile running path around the outside of the reservoir. Note that all of the 60 street lights for illuminating the path are broken and have been for many years.

Parks Dept. floats $500M [sic] restoration proposal, but critics want it left alone

By John Lauinger
Daily News Staff Writer

Sunday, January 13th 2008, 4:00 AM

The Ridgewood Reservoir could one day feature a lighted bicycle loop, an environmental learning center and "meandering meadows," much like Central Park, a top Parks Department official said last week.

Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said those options are being considered as part of a potential $50 million restoration of the heavily wooded former reservoir that straddles the Brooklyn-Queens border.

Yet even as Lewandowski said Parks planners are trying to balance passive and active forms of recreation into "a model that doesn't in any way damage the environment," the agency's own hired consultants warned against any "major disturbances" of what is one of the city's last remaining swaths of untamed woodland.

"Most important to maintaining and enhancing the biotic integrity of the Ridgewood Reservoir is preventing any major disturbances of the otherwise intact forest and other ecosystems," concluded a draft environmental report prepared for the Parks Department by Round Mountain Ecological LLC of New Jersey.

The report - a copy of which was obtained by the Daily News - calls the reservoir "highly significant for the biodiversity of New York City and the region," and said it is home to at least seven endangered bird species and three endangered plant species.

"Why would New York City, which is now taking this green approach to everything, want to destroy that?" asked Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, which formed the Ridgewood Reservoir Education and Preservation Project. "It doesn't make any sense."

The 50-acre site served the city as an active water source until 1959, and as a backup water source for Queens and Brooklyn until 1989. In the two decades since it was closed, it has regenerated into a rare urban forest.

City Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) agreed the city should not "alter what nature has created over the years."

"We really cannot re-create what nature has done at the reservoir," he said.

Addabbo, who serves on the Council's parks committee, said money would be better spent upgrading adjacent Highland Park.

Lewandowski acknowledged "there is not a defined plan at this point," and said public comment could take place at community board meetings in Queens and Brooklyn this spring.

While the topography and ecology of two of the three reservoir basins makes them unsuitable for development, she said, an 11-acre portion of the West Basin could be developed for active recreation.

"Think of it in terms of Central Park or Prospect Park, where you have these beautiful, naturalistic locations that are tucked in within an [Frederick Law] Olmsted landscape," she said. "So you have these meandering meadows that people can walk on, you can bring a blanket, you can sun, you can play ball informally or formally."

She would not say what type of active recreation is being considered.

Ron Bourque, a member of the conservation committee of the New York City Audubon Society, said breaching the basin's thick perimeter wall to allow for development would be expensive.

"Preserving the natural areas and doing things based on that would be more economical and would make a lot more sense," he said.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Recent Satellite Image

I just found a recent USGS satellite image of the reservoir. Unlike the Google Earth image (which is probably very old), this one shows the lushness of the basins. The left-most basin, which is shaped sort of like an "L", is where parks wants to breach the wall and construct fields in the "half" above the visible vernal swamp.

The Three Basins (click to enlarge)

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

104th Precinct Community Council

The 104th Precinct Community Council meets the 4th Wednesday of every month at 8:00p.m. at the Covenant Lutheran Church:
68-59 60th Lane (map below)

President: Mike Hetzer
Vice President: Diann Cusimano-Timki
Treasurer: Tony Salela
Recording Secretary: Sam Hernandez
Religious Liason: Rev. Michael Ross/Rev. Efrain Agvilar
Advisory Members: Dominick Palma

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