Friday, June 22, 2007

Times Newsweekly: Parks Makes Plans For Reservoir ‘Nature Preserve’by Robert Robert Pozarycki...

As part of the city’s master plan to make the five boroughs greener by the year 2030, the Department of Parks and Recreation recently announced its intentions to renovate Highland Park and transform the nearby Ridgewood Reservoir into a nature preserve.

The project, expected to cost over $5 million, would lead to the creation of a new 60-acre “active recreation center” at Highland Park on the Brooklyn-Queens border, noted a spokesperson for the Parks Department. A new running track would be built at the site as well as various athletic fields, including a cricket pitch.

Though currently surrounded by fencing, the Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn-Queens border may soon be reopened to the public as a brand-new wildlife sanctuary. The Parks Department recently announced that it intends to convert the 50-acre site into a new nature preserve and educational center as part of the city’s PLAN-Y-C 2030 master plan.

Also included in the proposal, the spokesperson added, is the creation of a new nature preserve and educational center at Ridgewood Reservoir. Much of the 50-acre site, which once stored drinking water for Brooklyn residents, has been left stagnant since the facility was taken off-line in 1989.

The renovation of the two park facilities is part of a $386 million initiative to renovate eight “regional parks” under PlaNYC, the master plan started by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the renovation of New York’s infrastructure by the year 2030. Six other parks throughout the city are scheduled to be renovated, including Rockaway Beach Park and the pool at Greenpoint’s McCarren Park.

Currently, the Parks Department is reaching out to residents in nearby communities on both sides of the border to gather input on what both parks should include. The agency representative informed the Times Newsweekly that the design phase for the project will begin this fall and will “continue through 2008.”

Once design plans are completed and approved by the city, ground is expected to be broken on the projects sometime in 2009.

The fate of the reservoir, in particular, had been in question for many years. Since being inactive after 1989, the site has transformed naturally into a wetland attracting a variety of birds and aquatic creatures.

Ridgewood Reservoir was originally constructed in 1856 and was completed by December 1858. The basin funneled in fresh water from the town of Ridgewood, Long Island in present-day Nassau County.

Ridgewood, Queens and Ridgewood, Brooklyn gained their names from the reservoir, which at its peak had the ability to hold over 154 million gallons of water daily, enough to provide drink to Brooklyn residents for up to 10 days. The facility was converted into a backup water supply in 1959 before being taken out of the water system 30 years later.

Originally controlled by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, authority over the 50-acre site was transferred to the Parks Department by Mayor Bloomberg in 2004 as part of a plan to annex the property with Highland Park.

Though it was initially speculated that the reservoir would be converted into athletic fields, a number of local community interests had reportedly brought forth ideas to preserve the predominantly aquatic nature of the site.

Queens Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano told the Times Newsweekly that members of the advisory body have long sought to preserve the location for aquatic purposes. The renovation of the site has frequently been one of the board’s annual budget requests.

Giordano expressed his optimism for the plan, noting that the renovation of Highland Park and Ridgewood Reservoir could go a long way toward “revitalizing” the entire greenspace.

Push for recreational space
The Parks Department can turn the long-abandoned location into an attraction by creating recreational activities for residents at the site, District Manager Giordano observed. One of the ideas floated by members included converting one of reservoir’s four chambers into a man-made lake for recreational boating.

As for the Parks Department’s proposal, Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association President and Board 5 member Paul Kerzner stated that the Parks Department should reserve one of the three reservoir chambers as a nature preserve, while leaving the other two chambers for recreational purposes such as swimming and boating.

“One of the three chambers should be left for migratory birds” and other wildlife, Kerzner said, “but to leave all three sites to the birds is not fair to the humans.”

In order to finance regular maintenance of the renovated reservoir, the RPOCA president suggested that the Parks Department operate a fish hatchery out of one of the chambers. The money generated by the sale of fish to local markets could be funneled into a fund designated for the regular upkeep of the area.

While acknowledging that he would like to see additional ideas regarding the reservoir, Citizens for a Better Ridgewood Vice President and Queens Board 5 member Michael Hetzer stated his favor for the creation of a nature preserve at the site: “Anything that renovates the park and makes it nicer for users has big relevance for our community board.”

He hopes that the final plan, once completed, approved and built would help boost local interest in both Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park and attract residents to both venues: “It’s almost like (the popular movie quote), ‘If you build it, they will come.’”

Doubts about design timing
Despite the Parks Department’s projections, Kerzner observed that the design phase for the two parks would most likely take longer than anticipated.

He informed this paper that any final plan would need to be approved by both Queens Community Board 5 and Brooklyn Community Board 5 as well as City Council members Dennis Gallagher and Erik Martin Dilan before work could begin.

“We’re at the beginning of the process,” Kerzner said. “We’re not anywhere near implementation.”