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Parkgoers get new, beautified gateway to Willow Lake

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New decorative gates at the two entrances to Willow Lake will protect the wetland from the vandals that once plagued the area, making way for a peaceful place that residents can tour, Queens officials said last week.

Borough elected officials joined Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski and area residents cut the ribbon on the new gates that will serve as Willow Lake’s formal entrances — one in Kew Gardens Hills and the other in Forest Hills. Willow Lake is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“The gates have always been here, but they should be special, ornate, welcoming,” City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said of the iron gates on top of which cattails, native to the area, are featured. “It should befit the wonderful Willow Lake preserve that is behind it.”

Gennaro allocated $150,000 for the entryways and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) provided $200,000. Mayor Michael Bloomberg chipped in another $35,000.

“I use this park all the time,” Koslowitz said. “I’d come here with my children when they were young. It’s very, very special to me.”

Lewandowski said that unlike the previous gates, these entrances can be locked, keeping out those who would come and cause chaos in the area in past years. Residents said people have set fires in the area and there used to be nearby homeless encampments.

“The old gates looked bad, and because they weren’t secure people would get in at night,” Lewandowski said.

City officials began to restore willow Lake in the spring of 2009, and the restoration includes the removal of the phragmites and other invasive plants and planting almost 13,000 native trees, shrubs and wildflowers to improve the ecosystem around the lake. The project is scheduled to be competed at the end of 2011.

While there will be limited access to the lake during the restoration, Lewandowski said the city Parks Department and the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy will be leading tours around the area. The next tour will be Sept. 25 at 10 a.m. at the Mauro Playground entrance in Kew Gardens Hills.

Conservancy President Patricia Dolan said the area is of particular importance to bird watchers because it is part of the Atlantic flyway.

“During migration season, there are millions of birds that go by here,” said Dolan, who helped to bring a bird blind, a shelter for bird watchers, to the area.

Dolan also stressed the importance of having the ability to lock the gates.

“People were stretching the gates all the time and getting in here,” Dolan said. “For more than 40 years there was a great problem with vandalism. This part of the park was being abused.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:10 pm, October 10, 2011
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