Park’s Condition Riles Residents
Claiming that Frank M. Charles Memorial Park, a Howard Beach recreation spot enjoyed by young and old alike, has gone largely untended for another season, the frustrations of many Howard Beach and South Queens residents have hit a highwater mark.
“It’s a shame. It’s the jewel of Jamaica Bay,” said Dorothy McCloskey, a Howard Beach resident and member of Friends of Charles Park, an arm of the Howard Beach Civic Forum committed to improving and maintaining the park. “You wouldn’t see this happening at Yellowstone (National Park),” she added, walking around a pool of water from the park’s playground sprinkler. Its clogged drain was sending runoff water onto a neighboring basketball court.
Part of the 26,000 acre Gateway National Recreation Area, Charles Memorial Park is visited by hundreds of people each weekend. Its shoreline, three baseball fields, five tennis courts and playground are maintained by the National Park Service. But while many credit Gateway with installing new park benches, keeping litter from the baseball fields and putting in a new playground, others believe parts of the park are being neglected.
A half dozen dead trees are spread throughout the park and the wind screens on the fences behind the tennis courts have been badly torn by the sharp breezes coming off the bay. According to McCloskey, a group of senior citizens had tried earlier in the season to sew up the screens that keep the wind from taking their tennis balls off course, but eventually abandoned the effort.
Before recently being replaced, the American flag that hung at the park’s east end for over a month had been torn in half by these same breezes. Walkers who use the park’s half mile, paved track suggest that a poorly synchronized light timer is the reason why the park is sometimes lit early in the morning and dark until well after nightfall.
Its baseball fields see regular use by the Ozone Howard Little League, St. Helen’s Little League and several adult softball leagues, hosting 10 to 12 games a week between April and June, according to Nick LoPrinzi, an Ozone Howard Little League coach.
ßhe fences around the fields had been replaced and work was done on the diamonds with funds from a $1 million grant Congressmen Anthony Weiner (D Kew Gardens) obtained for the park, along with Hamilton Beach Park, in 1999.
But without regular upkeep, the fields have slowly deteriorated. There are no base paths or pitchers’ mounds and patches of grass have fought their way up in spots throughout the infields.
“We’re afraid the kids are going to get hurt,” said LoPrinzi, explaining why he reluctantly takes his teams to practice in Charles Park. Dips throughout the field, resulting from pooled rainwater, make running dangerous in spots, he said.
Since being redistricted in 2002, the park has been represented by Congressman Gregory Meeks (D St. Albans). He meets regularly with the leaders of area civic groups, including the Locust Grove Civic Association and Community Board 10, where complaints about the park are often fielded.
Many of these complaints concern the condition of the shoreline surrounding the park. “It’s a garbage dump,” said Howard Beach resident Frankie Caruso, who has been coming to the park with his dogs for the last 20 years.
Caruso said that Gateway personnel will occasionally drive through and look around, but that he has never seen anyone from Gateway clean up beach litter. He sometimes piles trash off toward the beach’s reeds, away from his dog Jet, when the two are walking on the sand.
Most prevalent on the park’s west end, the garbage includes bottles, cans, full trash bags, detergent containers, plates and plastic utensils from barbecues, abandoned grills and fruits and vegetables.
“It’s a sad situation because it’s a gorgeous park. It’s beautiful. I love it here,” said Mary Dellera, of Howard Beach, who visits the park regularly. The only time she has ever seen anyone sweeping the beaches was when community groups, such as the American Littoral Society, come for cleanup days.
Gateway Public Affairs Officer Brian Feeney reported that one maintenance man is stationed at the park daily during the summer and that he is aided regularly by traveling Gateway crews that come through to help maintain the park several times a week.
But Dellera believes that Gateway needs to have a second maintenance man at Charles Park daily who would be solely responsible for beach cleanup.
Anthony Allia, a 165th Street resident who lives less than 50 yards from the park, also calls for an increased Gateway presence. He believes that the park needs to be patrolled and that large gatherings—the cause of beach litter, in his opinion—need to be broken up. He said that on weekends, groups of over 30 typically gather on the beaches into the early morning hours.
“There’s absolutely no police presence down here,” said Allia, also a member of Friends of Charles Park.
But while explaining that Gateway launches two major beach cleanups each year, one in the spring and one in the fall, Feeney said: “If you look at the number of miles of coastline on Jamaica Bay, we can’t police it all constantly. It’s almost an impossible task.”
He added that an increased presence by Gateway in the park may not do much to address the litter problem because Gateway believes that much of the garbage is not left behind by visitors, but washed onto the shore.
Feeney said that Gateway recently awarded a contract to a firm that will begin rehabilitating the park’s bathrooms next month.
Meeks had worked with Gateway for almost two years to have the bathrooms refurbished. They currently have no running water and a roof is badly in need of repair, according to his spokesman Brian Simon.
Simon said that the delay happened because Gateway was having difficulty finding a contractor to perform the work. He added that Meeks wants to continue working with Gateway and South Queens’ community members until the park is pleasing to all.
by Joseph Wendelken, Assistant Editor
©Queens Chronicle 2006
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