Monday, June 8, 2009

The Other Forest Park

Although I wish for this blog to be a public forum, so far I have received little comment (publicly) from the readers. Word has reached me however, that at least one of my readers worries that the blog because many of the posts focus on the business of picking up and analyzing trash (I have become some kind of forensic trashologist), because of this, paints a negative image of Forest Park which might lead to the wrong impression of its value or might even deter visitors from coming to the park. I would like to dispel that image from the minds of readers who don't know the park first hand. Let me say that in the hundreds of hours I spend in the park, I have witnessed unlawfull activity including littering only on about three occassions. None of these incidents were threatening or caused me any anxiety. The park is a safe place to be during daylight hours. If you aren't aware of the geography of the park, Forest Park is a big park! By far, the largest portion is all forest. Because of it's size, it forms a border with four separate neighborhoods, Glendale on one end, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill on its other side .Two sets of railroad tracks dissect it. Myrtle Avenue runs through it and Woodhaven Boulevard cuts off another section . The downside of that is there are just too many ways of entering the park apart from the designated areas planned by its designers.My work of picking up trash is largely confined to the edges of the park the unplanned entrances. That's where I find homeless encampments, places to hide illegal activities and most litter. I pick up that litter and look for it every day. Perhaps the reporting of my work has skewed my readers overall view of the park. I should therefore, paint a fairer picture of the vast majority of the park and take you there on a virtual journey.

Today, I parked on a street off of Woodhaven Boulevard and Union Turnpike and walked to its end where there is a big industrial looking building on a dead end street. It houses a Riding Academy with one of those indoor rings riding schools provide, and a small stable where one can either rent horses or stable their own. From there, riders cross Union Turnpike and enter the park's bridal path where they ride through 500 plus acres of mostly an oak and hickory forest covering the hills and gulleys of the glacial moraine that formed this part of Queens. I entered the park walking down the wide lane used by the horse riders as they travel to a place where they can access a tunnel under the Jackie Robinson Parkway which unfortunately shaves some 30 original acres from the park. This morning, I had my work gloves with me but no plan in my mind that I would clean up a particular spot. The woods on this other side of Woodhaven Boulevard are much cleaner than what I have described in earlier posts. There are four marked trails in and around the forest, and countless smaller off the trail paths that can end in dead ends or meet the marked trails at other points or exit the park.There is also the bridal path which intersects those trails at several places.This morning, I found a clean looking plastic bag that looked strong so I thought I would fill that one bag and continue my walk from where ever that led me. Littering on this side of the park isn't as pervasive as in the small strip of woods I normally prowl on the Strack Pond side of the park. So starting in the area where I found the bag, I took one of those off the trail paths close to the edge of the park and walked stopping to pick up water bottles, and all the stuff I normally find, but not in any one heavily concentrated area . When I had filled the bag, I looked for a place to dispose of it and found a can at an opening in the woods where Forest Park Drive cuts across its expanse. Thankfully, there is no traffic allowed on the Drive on this part of its length so I saw a few walkers and a biker or two this morning as I crossed the Drive and looked for the painted dots on fences, rocks and trees that mark where the orange trail leads one around the woods. The orange trail is the outermost trail and the longest in the park. It would take you about an hour or perhaps a little more to hike the whole trail. I decided to follow the trail for part of its length back around to where I could get off it at a place near where the horses and I entered .If you're thinking to yourself , this sounds like a really nice thing to do, you would be right. This morning, I walked through a section of the trail where towering pines dominate a flat area of about two hundred yards only to return me to be swallowed again by the hills of the forest. I walked down darkened lanes and climbed hills where the exposed roots of giant oak trees formed natural stairs in the soil. I love to examine the bottoms of the oak trees that are all over the woods. The roots of some of the larger and older ones reach into the soil like the legs of giants covered in green moss.In the spaces between where the roots meet the trunk, natural grottos form in these oak tree where one might expect to find an altar to the goddess or a faerie door leading to the nether world. At some point in the trail, I crossed a bridge over the active tracks of a spur of the Long Island Railroad where occasional freights pass hauled by diesel locomotives. It's serene and calming in spite of the traffic noise of the Jackie Robinson which plays in the background. It's a treasure-is Forest Park. It is a place to be preserved and supported.The staff there does a remarkable job with the limited resources spooned out by the city. We need more money, more staff, more rangers and more volunteers. Come, walk around this park. Explore the trails, pause on a hill to view a freight train rounding a curve. This is why I work--why I sometimes get obsessed with the trash I find. This is what makes it all worth the effort.

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