The following Guest Blog was submitted by Bruce Piel, Chairman of PARCnassau.
July 4, 2005 Wantagh, New York
PARCnassau Chairman Bruce Piel announced today the First Annual Nassau County Parks Report Card. This is in response to the county administration’s pledge to have our public parks fully functional by Memorial Day weekend this year (“County Parks are making a comeback”). Since Memorial Day, PARCnassau has inspected parks, preserves and historic sites. After that inspection by various member groups, we grade the county park system a “generous” C Minus.
The “generosity” was prompted by two factors. First is the appearance of the 11 “Ten-Point Parks” where most of the cosmetic improvements were made. The public reaction to visiting these facilities has been, “Wow! This looks better than it has for years!” Cut grass, trimmed hedges and a fresh coat of paint went a long way to camouflage years of neglect. Second, the Herculean efforts of county parks personnel, who without sufficient people, material or support, worked 12 to 16 hours days for almost two months to accomplish what they did must be recognized and appreciated.
Looking at the broader picture however, shows the 83 facility parks system is still in sad shape. Even in the “10-Point” parks, fresh paint was put over rotted wood on benches and picnic tables. Rusted bleachers often received only a primer coat without a follow-up finish coat of paint. The $450,000 spent for new plantings, mostly trees, county-wide were negated by no follow-up program to water them. This has resulted in almost 25% of the trees dying. At Nickerson Beach, trees susceptible to salt air were planted and most of those will also die. Deliberately late hiring of janitorial and seasonal workers is reflected in the inadequate follow-up work being done to capitalize on initial improvements.
Are Nassau County Swimmers at Risk?
There is a critical shortage of life guards at county park pools. Christopher Morley, Wantagh, Cantiague, Nickerson Beach, North Woodmere, the Aquatic Center, and Whitney Pond do not have enough certified life guards to cover their pools adequately. The county processed the applications late, losing most applicants to other employers for the summer. The county Department of Health should be addressing this safety issue.
Basically, there is none. The Department of Public Safety (formerly Park Rangers) is now being used to protect county buildings with only two or three assigned to the 6,000 acres of county parkland. This is reflected in the increased incidence of vandalism, gang activity and flouting of park regulations that lessen the park experience for resident taxpayers.
Dead and dying new trees abound, starved for water. A new dock in the marina was rebuilt with “trash” wood, with splintered edges and decaying knotholes which will hasten its deterioration. Broken asphalt and flooded footpaths circle the park. Rotted wood slats are still on the benches and some picnic tables. Sinkholes along the bulkhead at the marina and fishing pier were repaired but the underlying cause; soil leaching into the water was not addressed so the repairs are temporary at best. The heavy equipment used destroyed many of the curbing stones along the bulkhead now allowing toddlers on tricycles to veer into the roadway. The eyesore Old Marine Playground in mid park is still the “poster child” for a decaying playground and now only hosts youths intent on drinking and drug use. Speaking of hosting, Wantagh Park has Woodmont Day Camp again this year. Its tent, fencing and activities have taken over almost the entire great lawn and half the adjacent parking lot. The several hundred children over-tax the pool, tennis courts, playgrounds and ball fields.
Cedar Creek Park
Tennis and basketball courts were refurbished. Lack of watering is killing the newly planted trees. Replacement of rotted wood on benches and tables was not done. The county ran out of grass seed before addressing this park, so bare spots and weed covered areas will remain that way.
Hempstead Harbor Park
This park is literally falling apart, the beach is filthy and most of it is closed off with snow fencing. The fishing pier is dangerous and large sections are closed off. Grass and weeds are growing up through the pavement. Collected trash is accumulating in the maintenance area.
Whitney Pond and Manhasset Valley Parks
Aggressive pruning in both parks left loads of branches on the ground which was not immediately addressed. Most of this material ended up in the ponds and is now rotting and blocking the free flow of water. Both parks need major repairs.
Bailey Arboretum, Massapequa Preserve, Muttontown Preserve, Welwyn Preserve, William Cullen Bryant Preserve, Stillwell Woods Preserve, Merokee Preserve, Mill Pond Park and others were checked. Many of the trails are well over grown and tick infested. Trail markers and sign posts are faded to the point of being useless. Many streams are blocked by debris and mosquito breeding swamps are forming. Muttontown foot trails were also soiled by horse poop (thanks to a few equestrians who can’t stay on the bridle paths). Garvies Point Preserve, Tackapausha and Leeds Pond are in generally good shape due to volunteer groups. Tanglewood has been improperly converted from a preserve into an inactive park apparently to enhance a private science school and an adult living facility adjacent to the property.
Battle Row Campground
The county park office trailer belongs in an Appalachian Trailer Park. It is literally falling apart making the first impression to visitors a poor and even dangerous one. We’ve been told that a new trailer has been rented and 2 months rent paid but it has not yet delivered. Meanwhile embarrassed county workers vainly try to disguise the dilapidated trailer with flowers.
Christopher Morley Park
The resurfacing of the winter skating rink has never been completed. Electrical problems with the Kiddie Pool have closed it until further notice. Dead trees, insufficient lifeguards and uncut weeds along hidden footpaths along with hundreds of kids from the resident private Oasis Daycamp make the park experience for many residents less than optimum.
With the exception of the Red Course at Eisenhower, the other two eighteen-hole courses and the three nine-hole courses in the outer parks are in bad shape. Lack of irrigation, minimal grooming, hardened sand traps, etc. etc. have made golfing on county courses the equivalent of an Iron Man Triathlon for our senior residents.
The Aquatic Center
Insufficient life guards pose a safety concern. Lack of vacuuming of the pools has allowed an accumulation of hair, band aids and bobby pins on the pool bottoms. Damaged equipment in the exercise room has not been addressed despite an alleged repair contract with a local company. The parking field expansion planned over a year ago has not been completed yet, encouraging cars to park on the grass. The painting of the main entrance poles over a year ago has not been completed and the primer coat is starting to wear away.
If $18 million dollars was spent to bring our county parks back, we are wondering where the money went. Despite the best efforts of front line park personnel, their efforts were handicapped by insufficient workers, resources and support. The policy of late hire and early fire for seasonal workers continues leaving an insurmountable gap in maintenance follow-up. With the exception of one Deputy Commissioner, there is no other top management in Parks that has any parks experience or institutional knowledge. Nassau Parks have not made come back and even those cosmetic improvements will be lost unless the system changes drastically. The county’s answer seems only to be to privatize or dispose of our public parks instead of investing in this critical ingredient to our suburban life style.
Note: A Compact Disk with digital photographs on many of the problems noted above is available from PARCnassau upon request.
Park Advocacy and Recreation Council of Nassau
246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh, NY 11793
Tel/Fax. (516) 783-8378
The views expressed by Guest Bloggers are their own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Community Alliance, its leadership, membership or otherwise. All opinions, views and commentary are, of course, welcome.