BY ARLENE LEWIS
As Queens residents turn out this holiday week to enjoy the over 6,720 acres of parks that surround them, they are learning that in many cases local park land just isn’t what it used to be.
Shortfalls in funding have resulted in maintenance cuts, area closings, bathroom deterioration, fountain destruction and an often depressing scenery as the City Parks and Recreation Department fights hard to keep up with the strain that the weather and 2 million residents put on local green spaces. However, Borough President Claire Shulman and a new, grassroots group called the Queens Coalition of Parks (QCP) say we are losing the battle, and we need more funds fast.
Dan Andrews, spokesperson for Shulman, stressed that Shulman is “very concerned about restoring our parks.” Among the highlighted priorities that Borough Hall submitted July 1 for the Fiscal Year 2002 budget was restoration of park services, including dead tree removal, more maintenance staff, park enforcement rangers, and playground associates.
Mike Klein, co-manager of (QCP) charges that although Queens has 50 percent of city trees, large acreage of parkland, and numerous ballfields, funds alloted out of this year’s $160 million budget does not correspond to the borough’s needs. “Queens should get their fair share and then some,” said Klein.
He also told the Tribune that this year’s budget dipped $5 million from last year in spite of the severe lack of services at parks. There are two gardeners and three recreational directors, six plumbers servicing 398 bathrooms and 690 fountains, in addition to pools and other facilities, Klein said.
He added that enforcement services provide 18 officers, one officer for every 325 acres of land, with only two officers on duty after 6 p.m. In addition, there are no dedicated ballfield maintenance crews for Queens’ 200-plus ballfields, insuring more dirt than grass on the fields.
Queens Parks Commissioner Richard Murphy told the Tribune, “If we got more money, could we do better — absolutely. We are a premier agency working with a lean machine. We maximize our resources and do the best we can with what we have.
“Some of these parks need major capitol renovation, like Maurice Park Ballfield,” Murphy explained.
But, he added, “Grass cannot grow when leagues are playing on them seven days a week. It needs better management.”
Flushing Meadows Corona Park Administrator/Assistant Queens Parks Commissioner Estelle Cooper, said “It could be better, but we get enough.
“If there’s not enough money people have to help themselves. The public/private partnership always works. Now we will have to educate the new wave of politicans about the importance of parks. I hope we get the one percent.”
However, Councilman Sheldon Leffler, a Queens member of the Finance Committee, said the city had tried to save money by using “workfare” and public/private partnerships to fund parks, but it didn’t work.
“I think public/private funding is worth another try, but it hasn’t worked in Queens up to now,” he said. “The effort is worth supporting and hopefully we’ll get the increase. I will continue to support their objective.”
Courting A Clean-Up
Meanwhile on June 23, the courts weren’t ready at the Real Good Park in Rego Park for the first day of the summer basketball.
Leroy Hendricks, commissioner of the City-Wide Athletic Association and a Queens resident, has first-hand knowledge of the park’s conditions.
“We had to buy brooms in order to clean the courts ourselves every weekend prior to the games. I’ve been asking for the last four years to get the lines repainted, the ground evened out, and the trees pruned. Nothing has been done.”
A Coalition For Queens
Growing concern for the decline of Queens parks has motivated several Queens residents to form the Queens Coalition of Parks (QCP) – a group that has joined forces with the non-partisan, citywide campaign Parks 2001 — to educate the public and city officials about the importance of parks and the need for increased public funding to nurse our city’s park system back to health.
Give Us ‘One Percent’
The coalition’s slogan — “One Percent for Parks” — is designed to send a message to the city’s budget authors that more money needs to be allocated for maintenance and operation of Queens parks. In the current budget plan, four tenths of one percent (0.4 percent) of city dollars goes to the parks. QCP said that increasing that allocation to just one percent of the city’s budget going to parks would for regular cleaning, maintenance, recreation staff, increased enforcement and park ranger assistance, increased volunteer programs, and provide horticultural and forestry services.
With only three full-time recreation directors in the borough, recreation centers like this abandoned one in Queensbridge Park sit in a state of despair and uselessness.
QCP is made up of volunteers from various civic, athletic, and neighborhood groups who believe that local community parks can once again have water fountains, bathrooms, grass covered ballfields, and the ambiance of yesteryear.
Although some of these services are provided by the Parks Department, they are only “band-aids,” said Mike Klein, QCP co-manager. “The intent is good, but without an organized program to keep up maintenance, it won’t work.”
“The city spends far below the national average for parks,” Klein added.
According to Fred Kress, president of QCP and long-time Queens resident said “The kids know what’s going on. Ask the Little Leagues about the lack of facilities. They have to make deals with local restaurants like McDonald’s to use bathrooms and get water. It’s a shame our children have to do that.”
As QCP continues to meet, evaluate parks, and build strength for their funding campaign, they are looking for more voices to shout with them and speak for the parks. For more information, call 341-1395.
Stay Cool At Queens Pools
BY ANGELA MONTEFINISE
Queens residents now have a cool way to shake the summer heat after the Parks Department following the opening of four outdoor pools in Queens, on June 29th.
The pools will be in use until Labor Day, providing an inexpensive and local day of fun.
The pools can be used for free, and are open to all the public.
Lifeguards are on duty at all times and paramedics are on call to make sure that the pools are safe for all swimmers.
New state regulations look to increase safety this year, requiring that each lifeguard on duty patrol only fifty feet, leaving some sections of the public pools un-watched and off-limits.
While the Parks Department received complaints after opening day that the unusable sections made the rest of the pool crowded, Commissioner Henry Stern said that most days pools are not filled to capacity, so the new regulations should not be a problem.
“Safety first,” he said. “The new laws make sure people are safe, and that’s important. Visitor traffic is usually light. It was crowded opening weekend because of the extreme heat. That’s unusual. The pools will be fun. No need to worry.”
Most of the outdoor public pools are Olympic-sized because they were built in the 1930s when pools were the only way people could cool off.
Pools had to be large to meet with the demand, and most of them have a capacity of about 3,000 people. With the invention of air conditioning, however, pool use has declined, so Stern believes that there will be plenty of room in the oversized pools for anyone who wants to swim.
In addition to the large pools, which come in both indoor and outdoor varieties in Queens, there are also several mini-pools located in schoolyards and small playgrounds across Queens. Wading pools are available for infants and young children at some of the large pool locations, as well.
There are lockers available for all swimmers, but those interested in using them must bring their own locks.
Pools are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and are reserved for the elderly and disabled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Outdoor Public Pools in Queens include:
• Astoria Pool, 19th Street and 23rd Terrace in Astoria
• Fisher Pool, 32-25 99th Street and 32nd Avenue, East Elmhurst (wading pool)
• Liberty Pool – 106-22 173rd Street, Jamaica (wading pool)
Indoor Public Pools In Queens include:
• Roy Wilkins Park Pool, enter at Merrick Boulevard and 119th Street, Jamaica
Mini-Pools in Queens include:
• Marie Curie Park Pool, 46th Avenue and 211th Street, Bayside
• J.H.S. 10 Pool, 31st Avenue and 45th Street in Long Island City
• P.S. 186 Pool, 252-12 72nd Avenue in Bellerose
• Windmuller Park Pool, 39th Road and Woodside Avenue, Woodside