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Southeast Queens fights to restore wetlands

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Southeast Queens civic leaders are working to repair damaged wetlands in Idlewild Park in Rosedale after decades of development have degraded the natural wildlife habitat.

The Eastern Queens Alliance, a coalition of civic groups, has made the park, home to 225 acres of deteriorating wetlands, one of its top priorities, Chairwoman Barbara Brown told a Community Board 13 meeting last month.

"Most of the park is wetlands," she said. "Those wetlands are important. We need to preserve what's there."

The park is bounded to the south, west and east by Rockaway, Springfield and Brookville boulevards, and it stretches as far north as 149th Avenue, Brown said. The park is not a typical city park, but what it lacks in playgrounds and ballcourts it makes up for with wetlands and wildlife, she said.

"We've been working assiduously to preserve and restore the park because it's not your normal park," Brown said. "There are no swings or slides. There are no tennis courts."

Idlewild Park, cobbled together out of parcels of land that the city acquired between 1956 and 1964, is a Forever Wild Preserve, a city Parks Department designation that protects the diverse wildlife and plants that are found in the park, Brown said. The park is the nesting habitat for the northern harrier, or marsh hawk, and the short-eared owl, Brown said.

"It used to be there was a lot of fish there, and birds and turtles," she said. "There was an abundant amount of wildlife there."

The Fulton Fish Market, now in Manhattan, was started with fish caught in Idlewild Park, Brown said.

But about 75 percent of the wetlands suffer from damage brought on by development in the area. The park was originally designed as a buffer between Kennedy Airport and Rosedale, but airport projects and related businesses have taken their toll, Brown said. About 25 acres of wetlands were taken from the park to build the International Air Cargo center, and construction planned for the Nassau Expressway shows the highway bisecting the park, she said.

"If they go through the park, they will destroy it," Brown said. "They already raped the park when they put in the International Air Cargo center."

Aside from damage to wildlife habitats, the wetlands are also important to human habitats, Brown said. The wetlands act as a natural sponge, absorbing run-off water and easing flooding, which has been a chronic problem in southeast Queens, she said.

"All the water flows down there and it soaks it up," Brown said. "Perhaps if we hadn't filled in all the wetlands, we wouldn't have all this flooding."

The Eastern Queens Alliance has been working with elected officials, the Parks Department and the Army Corps of Engineers to restore the lost wetlands, Brown said. The civic group is trying to tie restoration projects in Jamaica Bay to work in Idlewild Park, which feeds into the bay.

"If we're talking about saving Jamaica Bay, we need to talk about saving Idlewild Park," Brown said.

In the meantime, the Eastern Queens Alliance is trying to raise money to establish an environmental educational center to teach southeast Queens children about the park and possibly start programs with area schools, Brown said.

"Our goal is to set up an environmental center that families and children will be able to go to and learn about the park."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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