Last night Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe confirmed that the “listening sessions” about the future of Ridgewood Reservoir were a sham. Despite its so-called Million Trees initiative, the Parks Dept. has always planned on bulldozing over 20 acres of existing trees and native habitat in probably the single healthiest forest anywhere in Queens and Brooklyn to put in ballfields and astroturf. This is being done to expand Highland Park, which currently consists of about 100 acres of poorly maintained, underused ballfields. Apparently they’d rather build new fields than fix and maintain the old ones.
The claims made back in the summer that no decisions had been made were lies. We’ve uncovered evidence that the Parks Dept. had decided at least as far back as May and probably earlier exactly what they wanted to do. I guess they were hoping the public comments would rubber stamp their decision. However, when locals expressed their strong preference for passive, low-impact uses like jogging, walking, bicycling, and nature; and their active distaste for any more soccer and baseball, the Parks Dept. ignored them.
Ridgewood Reservoir has benefited from 40 years of neglect. Precisely because the Parks Dept. couldn’t go in and spend millions of dollars destroying nature like they did in Central Park, Prospect Park, and other city parks, it’s actually in pretty good shape today. Obviously the Parks Dept. thinks this must be fixed. Why have virgin forest when you can turn it into a graffiti-ridden cricket pitch or trampled down astroturf?
It’s obvious that the Parks Dept. doesn’t really care what the public thinks about the future of this unique site, and trying to convince them is pointless. Listening to them is of limited use since they’ve proven you can’t trust them. I suspect the next step will be to work with the local council members, state senators, and assembly int he affected areas to put pressure on parks from above and see where that gets us. At least some of them have been listening to their constituents and gone on record as opposing the plan. Time is pressing though.
Surveyors have been out at the site making plans for tearing down the berm in basin 3 and knocking down the trees to make way for the ballfields. I suspect the Parks Dept. wants to present this as a fait accompli before any more politicians or lawyers can get involved.
If you’re interested, you can find out a lot more at Save Ridgewood Reservoir. Drop me an e-mail if you’d like to work on preserving this unique area. I’ll let you know when the next meeting is.