Friday, April 23, 2010

Just like Earl, I'm piling up good karma

I'm back in the park again. There is so much to see. The understory has grown in again and the larger trees are beginning to leaf. Many species are flowering, in particular, the dogwoods with their delicate white flowers. If you go early as I do, there are birds to see everywhere.Today, I spotted a red headed woodpecker hunting for food. The air smells clean and fresh. While the nights are still chilly, the homeless, the drug users and the drinkers have not been around in great numbers. That makes my job a lot easier. Today, I walked the orange trail around the south eastern corner of the park then followed the blue trail till it linked again with the orange trail near the bridal path that starts under the Jackie Robinson Parkway. I estimate that the whole walk was a little over an hour. I carried with me three plastic super market bags, stopping to fill them with trash where I found it, mostly discarded water containers, plastic bags and other assorted garbage. I managed to fill all three bags to overflowing. This may seem like a lot  to you; it actually isn't. While the three groups I mentioned earlier stay out of the park, or at least don't use it in greater numbers, most of the trash is either left over from the winter or discarded by absent minded people who don't reflect on the consequences of their littering. I left very little of what I saw behind and was able to use just three plastic bags . I call that a good day. 

While I've been away from my "trash patrol", I haven't been idle. I'm involved now with a number of citizens from the neighborhood of Kew Gardens brought together by a good friend, Mandy Gor the manager of TD Bank on Metropolitan Avenue in Kew Gardens. They are interested in contributing to the park and working with the Forest Park Trust to promote the park and see if the membership of the Trust can't be extended. I have my own agenda, but I commend their efforts to help. I have agreed to help them develop a questionnaire to see what people who use the park would like to see done in terms of improvements. 

I've been talking to people I meet in the park too. Just today, I met two gentlemen walking their dogs and asked them If they thought the park looked any cleaner. I'm glad to report they said yes. One of the men actually asked how he might contribute to the efforts of the few volunteers who try to keep Forest Park clean. I told them that the volunteer program was currently being reexamined by the administration of the park, but that Josephine Scalia was the person to contact if they wished to help out in the woods. Of course, it takes nothing to carry along a plastic bag and just start cleaning as you walk. That's how I started. Here's another idea. If you read this and get the idea you might like to join forces, send me an email and I will announce here on the blog when we might meet for a "clean up day". If I hear from more than say three people, I will call Josephine and set up the necessary permissions, etc. My email address can't be displayed on the blog, but if you leave a comment or look at my profile, you will be able to find me.

Lastly, in the spirit of Earth Day, I would like to remind people not to litter. Many of us can probably remember back to a time they might not have been as conscious as many of us are today about it. I know myself as a teenager, I drank beer in the woods. I honestly  don't remember if I carried the cans to a disposal. I smoked cigarettes too and while I was raised not to litter, I wonder how many of the cellophane tops of cigarette packs I just let fly. Everyone can probably share the guilt. It's time to make it up to Mother Earth. Just like Earl, we need to make up in good karma what we and the rest of us humans did to pile up the bad karma. Don't make Mother mad!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Late winter blues?

Perhaps I am just getting old, but I am feeling a little disenchanted.  I have been back to the park only a few times since my last post. Here's what I notice. The work that needs to be done isn't getting done by anyone: not by the police, not by park employees, not by new volunteers and certainly not by litterers. If I'm not there, no one else seems to care. I don't want to come across as a winy old man, but I'm feeling a little alone. When I was coming every day to the park, I really believed progress was being made. I thought litterers were beginning to see that there was a renewed interest in keeping the woods clean. I asked for and got the help of the park rangers and the management staff. I was encouraged to meet a few people who were volunteering. Now, after 6 or 7 weeks away, I see the same  patterns I noticed last March when I likened my progress to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods to eternal frustration. I'm the kind of person that needs to see results. If the community isn't going to care about how the park is being used, if the administration doesn't show it cares without being prodded, if no one else is volunteering, and if the litterers are back in force, why should I care?

Spring is just around the corner. Soon, the understory will begin growing back and the migratory birds will be returning. I'll be drawn there again to witness this magical transformation, but I can't say for sure I'll be returning to the work I've been doing these last two years. After all, roll that stone up the hill too many times only to see it roll right back down again and you begin to feel a little pissed off! No gods have condemned me to doing this work. I may be a little compulsive, but I am no Sisyphus.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some views of the woods and pond

Here are some pictures of the woods and pond in summer, fall and winter just to show you what I've been writing about. Come and visit anytime.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Forest Park and the homeless

Today, I completed what has now become an annual inspection of the woods around the area of Strack Pond. I am pleased to announce that the combination of persistent response to  problem areas and, now that the understory has shed its leaves and the poison ivy has subsided, the cleaning of remote sections has produced a clean segment of the park here on the corner of Woodhaven Boulevard and Forest Park Drive. Just two years ago, when I first began this work this same slice of the park was described as heavily trashed. Without the assistance of Forest Park's administrative and management personnel and its Urban Ranger office, this work could not have been accomplished. I thank all of them for their support of my efforts, their taking the time to patiently listen to my gripes, and their timely and continued response to my calls for assistance.

As a daily visitor to the park, I collect what must be years of the repeated use of the park by it's night time visitors. Judging only by the empircal evidence I collect, I have reached some startling truths that reflect a lot on us as citizens, as parents, as a city and ultimately as a society. By day, Forest Park is a serene place of beauty, at night, it does business as a place to get drunk and smoke, a place to have sex, and a place to stay over if you are homeless. All of that activity leaves litter. I've written a lot about the smoking and drinking before. Parents, wake up!! By the way, a special thank you to President Obama for banning those flavored blunts. That is the preferred way of smoking pot in Woodhaven. The way I look at it, one less thing I have to pick up of these kids.

I'm pretty sure that the park is frequently used by homeless men. What does that say about us, that staying overnight in a city park is a more attractive alternative to a city shelter. It seems evident that these encampments I have discovered in the past year also involve a lot of alcohol consumption. That's depressing. I don't like throwing away someone's clothes or sleeping bags. I always try to signal that I'm in a little hideaway by scrubbing the area of cans and debris before I bag clothes or blankets. Since I've started, I've seen evidence of  about seven or eight homeless locations on the Woodhaven side of the park. That's too many.

Forest Park was once part of a beautiful 1895 plan to have a continuous green belt ranging from Prospect Park in Brooklyn and culminating with Forest Park. It is a beautiful heritage of our city, and a treasure to the neighborhoods surrounding it. As a senior and a member of the Flower Child generation that would fix the world, I can't let it be passed on to the next generation sullied by our neglect, by our failure as parents and teachers and  citizens. I won't let that happen between Woodhaven Boulevard and the Carriage Walk, anyway. Pick it up, folks.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Confession: I am removing evidence from a crime scene

Rene, the Park Manager told me that he would have two more of the large trash bags I left off the trail in the woods disposed of. It takes me 3 or 4 visits to the park to fill one of those bags. There are other places in the park I leave garbage also, so this just amounts to the trash collected from the portion of the woods near the tennis courts on Forest Park South. In those bags are many plastic bags, the containers for coffee and food eaten in the woods, some beverage containers, and a lot of cigar wrappers. That portion of the  trash takes up about 15 % of the volume in a bag. The 85% remaining consists of  beer and other alcohol containers. I would guess conservatively, there are on average, a hundred and twenty beer containers in each bag. Now, many of them are the quart size containers, so there is an enormous amount of beer consumed in this part of the  park.Why do I say "I'm removing evidence from a crime scene"? I'm willing to bet that all of the vandalism that occurs in the park is a direct result of illegal drinking in the woods. The police call it the "broken window theory". One relatively small crime which leads to others. Since I've been involved with the park these past three years, I have seen the destruction of every sign park officials erected, the bat houses which were placed behind the pond, and the three or four "ice ladders" which are put there for safety each winter. A large laminated sign detailing the kind of wildlife at the pond was also torn loose from its mooring and thrown in the water. There have been at least three fires that I know of. And of course,broken glass is everywhere. Add to that, the other trash that accompanies the broken bottles and cans and you can readily see why I never have a day where there isn't some garbage to be disposed of. Never! There are areas in the woods that were empty a year ago and now take two or three visits to empty of bottles of malt liquor, beer, gin and vodka. What does this say of our generation that we tolerate our youngsters getting drunk unchecked every weekend in a city park? I realize the police and urban rangers can't patrol the woods nightly, but can nothing else be done? Most of the alcohol comes from two all night delicatessens, one on Jamaica Avenue and one on Woodhaven Boulevard. Those establishments sell the same size cans, bottles and brands I find and remove. Can't the police visit these places and warn the owners of the consequences of selling alcohol to minors?  And, what is going on with the parents of these budding alcoholics? These are middle class neighborhoods. You parents don't care if your children consume alcohol in the park? There is a $1,000 fine for littering in the park. Carrying and consuming alcoholic beverages in the woods can be a misdemeanor. Something like that on your kid's record can mean not getting into college, the Armed Services or a job. Nowadays, everything you do stays on your record. I will get the local police involved. As a fellow parent, I ask  the parents of these individuals to talk to your kids. I'm turning myself in. I am guilty of removing hundreds of bags of evidence.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Immigration and Forest Park

Our park touches five different neighborhoods in Queens. If you took a tour of all the homes on the blocks adjacent to or within a walk of the park, you would find urban mansions, condos, new homes, large and small apartment complexes and simple one family homes. You will find people who have only arrived in our country and those who have been here for many generations. The streets are neat and the homes kept clean. The users of Forest Park are, for the most part middle class and up. The difference is that many of the new immigrants to this part of Queens come from the third world. They arrive here from cultures where conditions are such that existence means exploiting the place you live for sustenance. These places don't have public parks, they don't have reliable plumbing, they lack sanitation and there is no sense that land must be preserved for further generations. We, the people of the United States, more specifically the teachers, park officials, social workers, police and citizenry of Queens have obviously not done enough to educate and inform our growing population of third world immigrants. I grew up in Queens and learned in first grade that we never throw so much as a gum wrapper on the street or certainly not in a public park. For all the talk about raising standards and lowering class sizes, do we still teach kids not to litter? Particularly, for these new immigrants who have come to us from countries that have been long exploited by the first world, robbed of their natural resources, forced into lives of abject poverty, have we done enough to inculcate our values ? I think it's time for America to realize that the past is over. We are feeling the effect of the long exploitation of the third world. The answer isn't to build bigger fences.