College Point community cleans up MacNeil Park

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It was a cool, sunny Sunday afternoon and the 30 to 40 College Point residents who found themselves in MacNeil Park could have been running, fishing or simply hanging out.

Instead those who gathered in the eastern corner of the waterfront park Sunday morning came prepared to do hard work by removing decades of debris and garbage littering the shoreline.

“We have two dumpsters filled already,” said Dr. James Cervino, a marine biologist and College Point native, of the debris collected by the volunteers. “Refrigerat­ors, a safe, a barge, tires, parts of cars, bottles but a very minor amount of medical waste.”

MacNeil Park sits on the tip of College Point and features stunning views of both the Manhattan skyline and LaGuardia Airport to the west. To the east are other environmentally sensitive parts of the northern Queens shoreline, including Powell’s Cove, Little Bay, Fort Totten, Little Neck Bay and Udall’s Cove, a wetlands preserve that borders Douglaston, Little Neck and Great Neck, L.I.

Cervino organized the clean-up effort with his wife and fellow College Point native Kathryn Cervino with the help of the city Parks Department. Both used the park as children and remember the garbage littering the area even then.

Kathryn Cervino, a former environmental reporter, said she was delighted by the large community turnout for the event.

“I’m so thrilled,” she said as she watched several people struggle to remove a large tire from the beach. “It touches my heart that so many people came out.”

Leo Nicholas, 63, was one of those volunteers. A College Point resident since 1967 who is active in the community, Nicholas praised the young people who joined the cleanup and said it was time for the community to protect the shoreline.

“This is probably the most beautiful park in Queens,” he said.

Nicholas, who along with the other volunteers struggled against strong winds off the East River to fill garbage bags with debris, motioned to the edge of the parkland.

The land just beyond the park, Nicholas and other volunteers said, is a healthy wetland that could become a housing development.

“That should be a wetlands,” Nicholas said. “It’s got turkeys, a pheasant, turtles. We need wetlands, we don’t need more housing.”

James Cervino said during the cleanup he was impressed by signs of environmental health in the water.

“The water is clear here, and there are sea grasses,” he said, pointing at a stretch of long, waving green reeds. “There has been a comeback of oysters, clams, scallops. It’s a bounce-back of a healthy ecosystem.”

“We didn’t expect it this good,” said Cervino, who credited the establishment of the nearby Tallman Island Sewage Treatment Plant with helping to keep the environment clean. Cervino, who teaches at St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows, also recruited volunteers by telling his students about the project.

Warren Smith, a College Point resident and member of the U.S. National Guard, came to the cleanup with his son Warren, 16.

“I see a lot of kids showing that they care about the environment,” he said, motioning toward the volunteers on the beach. “I think it’s great.”

For Marco DeSena, 21, of College Point, Sunday’s event was a first.

“I’ve never seen it clean. I’ve never seen a cleanup,” he said. “It’s been remarkable.”

Kathryn Cervino said the lack of litter baskets in the park and general carelessness have contributed to some of the debris in the park and on the beach.

“If people see people caring, in turn maybe they’ll care,” said Cervino, who credited Home Depot in College Point with donating needed supplies like work gloves, rakes, shovels and garbage bags. “It can be contagious.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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