Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A week in the Golden State puts an interesting slant on my work here in Queens. Whether in San Francisco or Carmel, Point Reyes or the Big Sur, Californians value the idea of not littering. In the National Parks and on US 1, there's a $1,000 fine for littering. Even in smallish Buena Vista Park in San Francisco, administered by the city, I found virtually no litter. It however, is patrolled by the police. The streets of San Francisco are 10 times cleaner than New York. I know, New York has a much bigger population. My point is not littering is a part of the culture in California.If Forest Park were in California, its natural beauty would be supported by the people who use it and the borough and city that are responsible for our quality of life. All we need is the will to do the same.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bird Season

Sunday, it was cold and cloudy in the park, but I saw my first cardinal pair and the trees were filled with a bird's song as I left the pond. Meet me in the parking lot any day for a tour of the woods. Bring your binoculars. I'll show you the birds and the trash!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Three bags a day

I worked on an area today that looked like it was being neglected. The bowl shaped woods leading down to the pond are boardered on one side by a fence running along Forest Park Drive as the road is called, down to Woodhaven Boulevard, the large road that splits the park in two. Along that fence, there are three sets of park benches, the kind made of wood and concrete. Predictably, the wooded area behind those benches contain a lot of trash. There are no waste baskets near those benches, or indeed, any waste baskets on the side of the park facing the woods going all the way up to Oak Ridge, the park headquarters perched on a hill at the end of Forest Park Drive. There are several trash baskets around the band shell, by the way, in the parking lot and carousel area, and in the picnic area. There are none on the side facing the pond or the woods. I remove a minimum of three plastic supermarket bags of trash a day from those woods. Often, I'll spend an hour on the weekend in the park. I can stuff trash from the woods into six or 7 bags in an hour. That's every day since I've started. The last Park Manager explained to me that they can't put trash baskets in the areas that accumulate the most litter, because they get vandalized, or are used for household trash. This winter, the laminated sign set on two sturdy legs at the little plaza in front of the pond was ripped off its mooring and thrown in the water. We can't just throw up our hands and do nothing can we? I'm caring for about 7 to 10 acres of woods. There are more than 500 in the park.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Your mother's living room

Suppose you needed a place for you and your friends to hang out and you happened to mention this fact to your mom. Suppose, for a moment, she agreed with you and told you it would be fine for your friends to come over whenever they pleased. Let's say one day you brought up a few friends to sit in the living room and play music, watch TV and do whatever they wanted. And, now let's say one of your friends was eating a bag of potato chips and when he finished he crumpled up the bag and threw it on your mom's rug. I don't think I would find too many people who wouldn't say, "You just throw your trash on my mother's rug? You never learned better than that?"
And of course, you'd be right to be angry at your friend.Perhaps, you would even consider telling him not to come back.

Forest Park is Mother Nature's gift to New York, to us, to you!

What are you going to do with that potato chip bag? You know what's right.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Forest Park in the Snow

I was down at Strack Pond Saturday morning sitting on the oversized root of one of my favorite trees. Normally, when everything is in leaf, this tree affords me a view of the pond and is still somewhat hidden from the trail around the pond. Now, of course I'm in plain sight. The park looks beautiful in the snow, but without any vegetation, you can see the buildings on the other side of Woodhaven Boulevard, and you can see how vulnerable Forest Park is surrounded by the busy life of Queens. This oasis in the midst of the chaos of modern life is in danger. It's so easy to enter the park and so easy to drop garbage there. I find car parts, discarded computers, clothing, bags and containers from McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts, and beer cans and bottles everywhere. For sure, the overworked staff in charge of the park has been very cooperative providing me with garbage bags and work gloves and picking those bags up once they are filled. The Parks Department in general and the administrators of Forest Park in particular are dedicated, grateful for any help they can get, and are trying to wisely spend what little funds they have but it is not enough. For starters, we need to have the Woodhaven Boulevard fence extended to protect the rim of the pond. It's too easy for homeless people and others to enter the woods . And, we need the help of the Police Department to stop the illegal activity that goes on in the park. There are just a few stores that sell beer and malt liquor near the park.I'm not a forensic scientist, but it isn't a stretch to imagine kids getting drunk in the park and then going crazy starting fires, tearing down signs and throwing things in the pond.Are the police doing anything to monitor these places of business to insure they aren't selling to minors? Judging from the number of beer cans and bottles I've collected over the past year, I would have to say no.

Please join me in my fight to save Forest Park. Subscribe to this blog so you know when new posts are published. Acting together, we can do something to stop the destruction of the woods of Forest Park. Let's keep the forest in Forest Park.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Condemned by the gods to be frustrated, I roam the woods daily looking for trash. When I 'm there regularly, I follow a plan of patrolling different areas of the woods on different days. One day for example , I'll check the fallen tree trunk where kids meet to get stoned. That area is usually strewn with Gatorade bottles and other litter including the little plastic envelopes the pot is sold in. Nowadays, kids around here roll their pot with the sweet smelling flavored tobacco of small cigars that are sold in foil wrappers. I know this because if I had a nickle for every one of the cigar wrappers I pick up, I would be able to pay for all the gas I use riding back and forth to the park. Another day, I check a little hiding place near the back of the woods facing the tennis courts. Apparently, this is used as a lover's lane judging by the number of used condoms and ripped clothing I find. Yes, I use gloves! Last month due to the cold, I saw a drop off in the amount of trash I normally find, so I began searching other areas. It's endless. I've uncovered whole new areas that look like they haven't been cleaned in years. So, just like Sisyphus whose punishment it is to roll his boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down before he reaches the top, I wander the hills of the park thinking perhaps I've cleaned everywhere there is to clean and I can finally rest and enjoy the scenery, only to find another area covered in beer cans or other messes. What keeps me going you may ask? I'm afraid to stop. I'm afraid to stop because no one else is doing this. I'm afraid one day some future Parks Commissioner will say, "The place is a dump. Let's sell it to a private developer and make the city a big profit". Don't let that happen. This place was given to us to nurture and protect.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Visits to the Park

About 13 months ago, I began a routine that might more rightly be termed an obsession. Before I get to that, let me describe the place where this obsessive/Sisyphean behavior takes place. Forest Park in Queens, New York is a big piece of land set aside by the city in 1895 (the third largest park in Queens) It is distinct, however in that 60 percent of its area is a dense woodland of oak, hickory and pine.Since my return to Queens, I visited the park mostly to sit there with my dad after my mom died. At the time (1996), the park was involved in a project of constructing a pond at the bottom of a wooded bowl shaped area alongside Park Drive. I should explain here that the land Forest Park is situated on was formed by the Wisconsin Glacier as it stretched across the Great Plains and reached New York forming Jamaica Bay. At this most southernmost edge of the giant river of ice, it split into smaller fingers of ice pushing the earth into depressions geologists call "kettles" (picture the inside of a kettle whose walls slope out). The hills formed by the areas between these fingers are called "knobs". Over thousands of years, the kettles developed bottoms of silt and clay over time which sealed them from absorbing water. Rainfall and snow would often accumulate and form kettle ponds. Forest Park had many of these naturally occurring ponds, but all are now dry. The pond the Park was working on in 1996 sits off Woodhaven Boulevard which unfortunately splits the park into two distinct areas. Couldn't they have built Woodhaven Boulevard underground for a few stinking blocks? Anyway, they chose the area bordering Woodhaven because it formerly was the site of two baseball fields which constantly flooded due to their placement at the bottom of one of these kettles. The story is that some visiting commissioner on an annual inspection, deemed the flooded fields "fit for ducks", and so the wheels were put in motion.
The park has at its northernmost peak, high over the rest of Queens, a restored Dutch-colonial farm house whose two banquet rooms are a great place for a party. The offices of the little team that administers this park are on the top floor of the big house. A winding road leads down from "Oak Ridge"through the park. You miss it's beauty if you use the road merely to enter or exit the Jackie Robinson Parkway. It was designed by the firm of Fredrick Ohmstead who designed both Central Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. To appreciate it, you really need to walk it.. It traverses the ridge of a long knob . You see the woods falling away on both sides of you as you travel down its length. On one side the woods morph into the "rough of one of the city's best little golf courses, it's greens spreading out behind the oak forest at its boundary like pastures . Near the end of this road, you pass the Bandstand where local kids constantly work on their skate board skills, the picnic area and the Carousel with its vintage hand carved horses.On the other side of the road, you pass a path diagonally rising from the park's lower reaches. Opposite that path is a ribbon of woods now at the same level of the road. Those are the woods I have chosen to patrol daily. They lead down in descending layers to the kettle pond and it's beautiful rim of water plants. From February through early June, these woods are home to several species of birds. The trees and bushes are alive with their calls .

All this would be perfectly fine except for one thing. As alone and peaceful the woods can make one feel in the early day, they are the unfortunate sight of various types of unlawful behavior later in the day. That behavior leads to other unlawful activity which personally affects me and the other lovers of nature who visit the park, that is, littering and vandalism. I got the bright idea last winter to spend part of my time in the woods picking up the litter I found. This led me on an increasingly wide inspection of the woods. What I found has led me to a disturbing conclusion.
If we only do as we have been doing to date to keep these woods looking like the"Forever Wild" places they are supposed to be, some future generation will say of us, they allowed the woods to fill up with garbage and they did nothing about it.