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The Civic Scene: Queens civic members focus on parks funding

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The advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks sponsored a gathering in City Hall Park just in front of City Hall. The group also arranged for all council members to be in their offices at 250 Broadway across from City Hall so activists and civic leaders from the five boroughs could speak with them about their needs and wants.

Scores of young people wearing New Yorkers for Parks shirts directed visitors to staging rooms and then to their council members’ offices.

The first agency to be cut during a fiscal crisis is the Parks Department. The few workers who do maintain our big and small parks do a remarkable job considering the shortage. Pruning of street trees and cutting down of dead trees and dangerous branches is carried out by the Forestry Division of the Parks Department.

People in the know are furious that the money paid by concessions in city parks does not go directly to fund parks but into the city’s general coffers. This means that the money paid by concessionaires, too little I feel, such as the Tennis Court in Cunningham Park, food vendors and even the concessions in Shea Stadium, go to the general budget. The city then decides how much it will give to the Parks Department.

The city earns about $62 million from concessions in all our parks. For years, park activists have been trying to obtain a part of this money in addition to the regular money designated for parks in the city budget. During the City Hall Park rally, City Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) announced the proposal of a bill that would mandate the money be used directly for parks.

We have to be careful that when this bill passes Queens parks do not get duped out of their fair share. That is what was done when the state gave us more money for city schools and then “they” took away the money. “They” also hijacked the Lottery for Education so the schools do not get that extra money.

Supporting our Queens parks is the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces. This group meets occasionally at the Overlook in Forest Park, the headquarters of our Queens Parks Department. The leader of this group is Frederick Kress, a civic leader in Jamaica. We are all volunteers who work for our communities.

Another group that advocates for its local park is the Friends of Cunningham Park, whose volunteers apply for grants from various agencies and foundations so the park can be improved. Of course, they can not provide the approximately $6 million to $8 million that will be necessary to improve the decay, due to tremendous use, in the western part of the park.

The Friends of Cunningham Park has sponsored trail restoration deep in the park, the building of a butterfly garden near 193rd Street, the placing of benches on the oval Walking Path near 193rd Street and Union Turnpike and the placing of bat houses deep in the park so bats can live there and eat pounds and pounds of bugs, including mosquitoes.

Money has been obtained to provide irrigation for the butterfly garden. Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) is providing $2,500 to build five information kiosks. Last March 30, Girl Scouts had a cleanup and cookout, and on April 4 the St. John’s students had their annual Greek Week cleanup.

The city has not yet started the rebuilding of the comfort station but there are plans. It is not handicapped-accessible. Some money will be used to fix up the pre-school building in the upper parking lot near 193rd Street. During the day senior citizens can meet here.

There is an after-school Learning Zone Enhancement program there for first through eighth grades, and during the summer there is a day camp. The park also offers outdoor shuffle boarding. Director Barbarette Williams can be reached at 718-740-1999.

Other plans for Cunningham Park include the display of a Vietnam Wall mode by the Queens Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America from Oct. 2 through Oct. 9. There will be 24-hour supervision.

Most of the park looks green and lush except for the eroded places. My concern is that by October the grass will die again, since there is no sprinkler system, and the dirt will start showing through the grass. The eroded places will still be there. I will be embarrassed if the wall is near some of these desolate spots. I have been saying for years that the western core area of Cunningham Park, near the area of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, has to be refurnished.

We have a new park manager who seems to be a nice young man. He is Mark Edwards and can be reached at 718-217-6348. It is good that we get these nice young people but it is bad that they are so competent that they move upward and then we have to start all over again explaining our wants and needs.

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