Saturday, November 28, 2009

Charles Park: Is Help on its Way? by Lisa Fogarty - Queens Chronicle

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Will Shafroth, left, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at the U.S. Department of the Interior, toured Charles Park Monday with Friends of Charles Park founder Dorothy McCloskey and Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica).

For most Howard Beach residents, it may be too soon to hope for the unimaginable: a neighborhood park that’s litter-free, verdant and in tip-top shape so tennis players, baseball dynamos of all ages, runners, walkers and children will have a space they’re proud to call their own.

What may be in the near forseeable future, however, is a promise that Charles Park is on its way to gaining the attention it deserves. On his first trip ever to Queens on Monday, Will Shafroth, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks for the U.S. Department of the Interior, made a beeline for Charles Park at the request of both Friends of Charles Park founder Dorothy McCloskey and Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica).

Shafroth spent the afternoon surveying the park’s neglected baseball fields, tennis courts, benches and myriad destroyed trees, stopping residents to quiz them on their ongoing concerns. He was accompanied by McCloskey, Meeks and Maria Burks from the National Parks Service, which owns Charles Park.

“It was an eye opener for a lot of reasons,” Shafroth said. “The tennis courts clearly need to be resurfaced, the baseball fields need work and landscaping needs to be addressed.”

The two main obstacles in the way of refurbishment, he said, are a lack of funding — a challenge for parks across the country — and the fact that, although owned by NPS, Charles Park has unique elements more consistent with a city park.

“There are challenges like how to cut the grass on the baseball fields and what’s the mixture between clay and sand needed on the baseball diamond,” he said. “These aren’t day to day things NPS officers are trained to do.”

But McCloskey, who said she is very appreciative of Shaforth and Meeks’ efforts, said NPS has been in charge of the park for 30 years and excuses won’t cut it. “The idea that kids who play baseball and live within a mile of the park have to travel to play is absurd,” she said, referring to the local baseball teams that no longer practice in Charles Park because of its state.

Tony Modafferi, who has lived across the street from Charles Park for 25 years, says he has seen improvements made to the park maybe two times during this time span. The baseball fields, which he calls the worst in the city, are made up of weeds, rocks and ditches, now that their original clay has been washed away and not replaced. “It pains me to drive through other neighborhoods and see how beautiful their parks are, only to wake up every morning and look at the sorry state of our park,” Modafferi said.

Both Modafferi and McCloskey are hopeful, however, that Shafroth’s attention is the start of a new era for Charles Park. In addition to analyzing the area, Shafroth says he is working with Meeks and NPS to determine what happened to the $1 million appropriation the congressman earmarked for the park two years ago. “We need to give it some focus and we can figure it out,” Shafroth said of the missing money.

NPS did not return phone calls.