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New Queens park group seeks political support

A group of Queens park lovers is taking advantage of the election season this year by petitioning political candidates to commit to an increase in the city’s parks budget.

Two months ago, 40 civic and environmental groups, many from southeast Queens, formed the Queens Coalition for Parks, said Fred Kress, who heads the new coalition and the Rosedale Civic Association.

The coalition is part of the Parks 2001 campaign, a non-partisan group whose goal is to make people — especially candidates for elective office — aware of what it contends is a lack of funding for city parks.

Both Parks 2001 and the Queens Coalition for Parks are pushing for an increase in Parks Department funding from 0.4 percent to 1 percent of the overall city budget.

This initiative is also called a “Penny for Parks” since it would designate one cent of each city dollar for green spaces.

Last year the city spent $198.1 million on the Department of Parks and Recreation, according to the mayor’s management report. That money amounts to $41 per capita on city parkland, according to Parks 2001.

The parks budget has plummeted by 40 percent in the past 15 years with a 70 percent decline in staff in the past 30 years, according to Parks 2001.

Queens is well-known for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, site of the 1964 World’s Fair, and also boasts green spaces such as Brookville Park in Laurelton, Alley Pond Park in Douglaston, Forest Park in Richmond Hill and dozens of small playgrounds throughout the borough.

The parks groups objective is not to create new parks but to maintain and operate current parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, community gardens and open spaces, said Rowena Daly, a spokeswoman for Parks 2001, based in Manhattan.

Parks outside Manhattan are in particularly bad shape because they are not privately funded like Central Park, which is run by the Central Park Conservancy, Daly said.

Queens’ parks are so short-staffed, for example, that there is only one Parks Department worker to maintain every 39 acres of land, Daly said, vs. 15.6 acres in Manhattan and 20.6 acres in Brooklyn.

One Queens volunteer, Leroy Hendricks, supervises youth basketball games at the Real Good Park in Rego Park. He pays young people to help him clean up before Saturday games because there is no maintenance worker at the park.

Hendricks said that while capital funds come from the City Council to improve the parks — like the recent renovation of St. Albans Park — there are not enough funds or maintenance workers to keep up the improvements.

In fact, when something is broken in a park and there is nobody to fix it, the park is simply shut down as was the case with a playground in Queensbridge, Hendricks said.

Although the capital improvement are welcomed, Hendricks said, “if we don’t have workers to maintain the park, what is it going to look like in three years?”

Hendricks and Kress said the time is right to petition candidates for parks initiatives, especially in Queens, where all 14 city council seats are up for grabs due to term limits.

“We needed to do it now,” Kress said of forming the coalition. “This was our last chance to do something of this magnitude.”

Members of the coalition include several southeast Queens block associations, the Rosedale Civic Association, the Cornucopia Society, the Laurelton Garden Club and the Eastern Queens Alliance.

“Southeast Queens is pretty strong because most of our founders are here,” Kress said, “but we are all over northern Queens and central Queens, too.”

The coalition has collected 25,000 names for the “Penny for Parks” initiative and received support from almost all the borough’s city council candidates.

“Parks 2001 is succeeding in part because of coalitions within the boroughs,” said Mike Klein, co-campaign manager for Parks 2001, “and Queens is the best.” Hundreds attended the kick-off celebration in Queens for Parks 2001, Klein said.

Although the Queens Coalitions for Parks will not endorse candidates, it will let the public know who has been supportive, Kress said.

“We are forcing them to make a commitment to allocate the funds to solve the problem,” Kress said.

The coalition’s secretary, Barbara Morris, who participates in a variety of Rosedale civic groups and is a TimesLedger columnist, said the coalition will carry on Parks 2001’s mission next year.

Morris said the coalition will hold next year’s council members to the promises they made as candidates.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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