The long wait may finally be over for kayaking enthusiasts looking forward to a launching site from MacNeil Park in College Point, as the City Council has provided funds for the project in its 2014 budget, released at the end of June.
But no one seems ready to celebrate just yet. The approval follows a long, often-convoluted series of events, and many are taking a “believe it when we see it” approach.
For years, James Cervino, a marine biologist from College Point who serves as environmental chairman of Community Board 7, with his wife, Kathryn, a journalist and environmentalist, has been at the forefront of a campaign to make the kayak entrance launch a reality.
“It’s not so much a dock,” James Cervino said, “but stairs and railing and a paved pathway from MacNeil Park,” allowing for access to the East River where it meets Long Island Sound.
“We were all a bit nervous for a while,” conceded Kathryn Cervino. “It ends up we will, indeed, get the funding. This is great news.”
She anticipated the launch would not be ready for a year or two due to “lag time,” though her husband was more optimistic, hopeful it would be in use within the next year.
The City Council has budgeted a total of $150,000 for kayak and canoe launches in the area, to be split between MacNeil Park and Fort Totten in Bayside.
In addition, $100,000 was set aside for rehabilitation of other parts of MacNeil Park, including its benches.
The money was allocated through a new process based on an idea from the Participatory Budgeting Project, a nonprofit organization that helps communities organize votes and make decisions on how discretionary funding should be spent.
Council member Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and seven other Council members bought into the process, which would allow their constituents to vote on their pet projects via participatory budgeting elections, which were held in April.
Residents of Northeast Queens voted on how Halloran’s $1 million in discretionary funds should be spent, and saw fit to provide for the Cervinos’ proposal.
Matters were complicated when charges of corruption were waged against Halloran, who was ultimately stripped of his authority to determine where the funding should be directed.
Andrew Rocco, president of the College Point Civic Association, said of the apparent victory for the kayak launch, “We really hope this works out. The fear of it not happening was worrisome. It would be great to have an official kayak launch.”
He indicated that, at one point, the Cervinos looked into the possibility of private funding, but it did not pan out.
“I’m really proud of the political engagement of my town,” Rocco said. “During the vote, my town really came out in droves. We’ve always felt our town was overlooked for so long.”
Also coming out a winner in the budgetary election was a New York City landmark, Poppenhusen Institute, a community cultural center in College Point, which is earmarked for $250,000 for its restoration project. In addition, $35,000 was approved for NYPD security cameras in the area.
A longtime College Point resident, James Cervino, who also serves as an adjunct instructor of marine sciences at Columbia University, said his interest in MacNeil Park was originally piqued through a desire to make a difference.
With his wife, he created the Coastal Preservation Network, a nonprofit that acts as an environmental watchdog for the College Point waterfront and which has been restoring seagrasses at MacNeil Park for the past 10 years to try to reduce water pollution, create habitats for wildlife and deter erosion.
He has also been responsible for re-introducing oysters to the bay in an effort to further clean the water. Originally slated as a five-year project, it has “blossomed into another extension of 10 years,” the scientist said.
“The water has improved drastically in the last 10 years,” he said. He credits his own efforts to restore the habitat along with the city’s sewage treatment work for the success. “Our city tax dollars are well spent,” Cervino said.
For the compilation book, “Innovative Methods of Marine Ecosystem Restoration,” published in December, which discusses revolutionary methods for restoring damaged marine ecosystems, Cervino contributed several chapters which are devoted to his work at MacNeil Park.
He also mentors two student scientists who assist him on his work, which incorporates mild electrical stimulation to enhance the growth of the seagrasses as well as solar panels to foster growth of the oysters. One, a graduate student from Pace University, is involved with the oyster project. The other, a student at St. Frances Prep, will use working on the seagrass project to enter the prestigious nationwide Intel Science Talent Search.
Surprisingly, Cervino describes this work as his “hobby research.” His primary research, he said, centers on marine diseases and climate change.
In his efforts to reconnect residents of College Point to the waters that surround them, Cervino has been working with the city’s Parks Department to repair MacNeil’s heavily used waterfront path, which has been described as crumbling.
In June, the CPCA and CPN co-sponsored Family Fun Day at MacNeil. According to Rocco, the event drew 500 people, including every candidate for borough president.
The day featured kayaking and a park cleanup.