BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Despite its cracked concrete, exposed tree roots and plastic bags rolling past like tumbleweeds, the Astoria Heights playground and park is packed and busy on weekend mornings.
Several neighborhood parents who have been disturbed by the debris and dangerous conditions at the playground have joined in an effort to make the space cleaner, safer and more enjoyable.
“I used the park a lot, but I often felt like I didn’t want to go to the park because it was so dirty,” said Lynn Kennedy, Astoria parent and a founder and chair of the local volunteer group Friends of Astoria Heights Park. “And I was hearing a lot of the same thing from other parents.”
Kennedy started Friends of Astoria Heights Park last August. The group’s primary goals are to engage neighbors in the park betterment effort and to make them aware of not only the park’s main problems, but also how they can help advocate for change.
Last October, the group successfully petitioned Community Board 1 to reprioritize the need for erosion control and gates at the park, bringing it to the top of the list of parks that need improvement.
Friends of Astoria Heights Park held an It’s My Park Day event – a seasonal day of volunteering presented by Partnerships for Parks – last Sunday morning. Parents and kids painted benches, picked up trash and revived tree beds. One mother helped her son rake leaves, warning him to be careful of broken glass.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) began their volunteer work on Sunday by re-painting a bench together.
“[Friends of Astoria Heights Park] is so invaluable,” Constantinides said. “They really are making a difference and they’re a positive change for their community. Through their efforts, they’re highlighting their local park [and] getting their neighbors and friends involved there.”
Some improvements that Friends of Astoria Heights Park hope to see in the near future include a gate at the entrance of the park, speed bumps added to the surrounding road and regular maintenance. Parents also complained that the bathrooms are sometimes locked in the middle of the afternoon.
“There are a lot of things this park could use,” Constantinides said, “and I think we’re going to be working through those budget priorities, and hopefully getting where we want to go very, very soon.”
The Parks Department will allocate funds to specific projects once the new fiscal year begins on July 1.
“It’s going to be incremental,” Constantinides added. “But I think we’re going to get there.”
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.