After years of hearing promises and placating answers, Howard Beach residents that have long made use of Frank M. Charles Park finally thought federal funding would became available to fix the park’s dilapidated tennis courts, baseball fields and make other improvements. Some residents say has not yet happened, though a representative from Gateway National Recreation Area said the money is in hand and on its way.
Local residents have long accused Gateway, which the park sits in, of ignoring the upkeep of Charles Park.
But in March, a community meeting was conducted where National Parks Service officials announced an appropriation of $200,000 that would be spent immediately on park repairs. Officials also vowed to form a new partnership that would ensure the community’s only green space no longer plays second fiddle to other priorities.
But those who use Charles Park regularly and live in the community say that has been just another in a long line of empty promises.
“This park is the only green space we have in this community,” said Dorothy McCloskey, director of the Friends of Charles Park Committee. “I think the National Parks Service can do a lot better. There’s a great deal of property that’s been neglected for a long time, and it’s a shame.”
McCloskey said the talk during the March meeting of an increased communication between Gateway and the community has not come to pass.
“They feel like they are not answerable to the community,” she said. “We have been trying to improve this park for years.”
Dave Taft, coordinator of the Jamaica Bay unit of Gateway, said the money is in hand and on its way.
“We do have the money, and the park is exploring the best way to spend it,” he said.
Taft added that Gateway is looking at improvements to the ballfields, and will soon be putting out a bid to renovate the tennis courts. He said Gateway is also going to be removing dead trees from the park.
Meanwhile, McCloskey is skeptical the money will be seen anytime soon.
She said current Superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area, Barry Sullivan, is set to retire this month, and McCloskey feels the transition period during which a new director is brought in will only delay the receiving of the $200,000.
“We haven’t seen a dime of that money and I don’t know when we will,” she said.
Parents of children who use the park for recreation activities said the longer the park is allowed to fall into disrepair, the less safe it will be for kids.
“It’s dangerous, quite honestly,” said Jean Trotta, whose daughter takes tennis lessons at the park. She pointed out the array of broken seashells scattered across the tennis courts as one hazard faced by kids and adults alike.
“I’ve never, ever seen this park in good condition,” she said.
A comment from Congressman Gregory Meeks’ office could not be obtained as of press time. Meeks’ district includes Charles Park.
Frank Gulluscio, who is head of the South Queens Democratic Club and a longtime Charles Park advocate, called the neglect of the park on the part of the NPS “simply atrocious.”
Gulluscio agreed with residents who said playing in the park could become dangerous if it continues to not be kept properly.
“You take your life into your own hands running the fields in there,” he said.
Ultimately, Gulluscio believes the greatest tragedy of the park is the potential of what it could become if it received the proper care from the NPS.
“It should be a shining star for the National Parks Service to show what they can do in the middle of a city,” he said. “That is not currently the case.”