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

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rappelling into the basin

On Tuesday morning, August 12th, I attended a tour at the Ridgewood Reservoir. Present for the walk were Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Congressman Ed Towns. Rep. Anthony Weiner was also scheduled to be present, but I guess something came up because he didn't show. You can watch a 6-minute video of Velazquez and Towns' comments before the tour posted here.

As part of the tour, Queens Parks Commissioner Lewandowski and the park's Natural Resources Group Chief Naturalist Mike Feller brought the congresspersons and several others down into basin 3 (the southwestern basin). This is the largest of the three basins and the one the parks department is eying for development. I pushed my way to the front of the group that was brought down into the basin where we were taken directly to a small meadow near the center of the basin. Mike Feller dug a small hole with a shovel and showed the group the layered earth; the top soil was very dark brown and covered a lighter section of what he called "puddling clay". He explained that because of the shallowness of the top soil most of the locust and birch trees in that basin that surrounded us would easily be toppled naturally, and in a short time. I gathered that that was their rational for a plan that included removing said trees. I asked him why it was, then, that there were relatively large maples and sweetgums within both basins 1 & 3. He explained that they, too, had weak roots systems and would also topple. I followed with, "Does that mean that under the soil and clay is bedrock? He said, "No" that it's glacial till. Mike never answered the question whether it was possible for mature hardwoods to grow in the basins, despite the fact that there are several areas where one can find very large sweetgums, maples and cottonwoods.

When I returned home, I researched "Glacial till" and discovered that nearly all of Long Island (Brooklyn and Queens) sits atop glacial till. I also sent a letter to a certified arborist and horticultural consultant and asked:

Does the fact that the basins rest on glacial till preclude the growth of healthy, mature trees?

I learned that:

"...tree failure depends on numerous factors - climatic, diseases and decay within trees, natural or anthropogenic soil disturbances and certainly shallow soils may be one of them." In addition, "trees along the Belt Parkway - Bay Parkway area (BK) finds numerous Robert Moses era Willow oaks at a height of 45-ft growing upon nutrient poor highly alkaline sandy soils with a minor layer of top soil and grasses. Towering oaks are even found across neighboring Forest Park, existing on the terminal moraine made up of glacial till."

The Ridgewood Reservoir basins could indeed be located on top of glacial till, but that does not mean that the trees are in danger of falling. Under the guidance and recommendation of NRG and Mike Feller, within the last year the Department of Parks & Recreation has authorized the deposition of thousands of yards of nutrient poor, rocky-sandy glacial till, 3-4-ft deep covering a few acre tract of the Kissena Corridor West adjacent to New York Hospital. This glacial till became the foundation upon which some 4,000 + young trees were planted by students under the DoPR sponsored 1-million tree planting initiative. Their intent within the Corridor is to establish a mixed stand forest, similar to what may be occurring naturally in the reservoir. The tree species planted were indeed oaks, tulips and sweetgums, to name a few.

It is important to note that Commissioner Lewandowski and Naturalist Feller never lead the group through any of the forested areas of the basin, just the small meadow. I got the impression that they wanted to get us in and out as quickly as possible without the congresspersons looking around too much. Does their misleading dog and pony show in the basin indicate an intent to remove trees, no matter what the community demands?

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