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Queens Chronicle

Charles Park in Howard Beach eyed for bikes, canoes, kayaks and more

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Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:30 am

The proposals are ambitious and, to many in the community, not necessarily terrible.

There’s just one problem — the location.

As part of an agreement between the federal government and the city to share management of Gateway National Recreation Area, the two parties have issued a request for proposals for bike rentals, kayak and canoe rentals and food vendors at public spaces within Gateway. The bidding process is ongoing, and Parks is expected to pick winning bids next month to implement the proposals for the summer.

One of the spots identified in the RFP is Charles Park in Howard Beach, which falls under federal jurisdiction.

But residents who live near the park say now is not the time to be bringing in those amenities, and many say the right time is never.

At issue is the park’s condition, especially after it was submerged under nearly 10 feet of water during Hurricane Sandy.

Even before the storm, however, the condition of Charles Park has long been an issue that frustrates the community.

“The park is in deplorable condition and has been for years,” Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton said to Lauren Standke, a project manager for the city Parks Department who came to CB 10’s meeting last Thursday to discuss the RFP.

Braton said the baseball fields and tennis courts are in terrible condition, as is part of the path that circles the park.

And since Sandy, part of the tennis courts’ fencing has collapsed, garbage has been left strewn throughout the park and a wrecked boat that washed up on its west-facing shore in January remained there until it was moved last month. Also, the flag that rises over a memorial to soldiers killed in action was faded and tattered until it was changed a few weeks ago — the day after the Queens Chronicle ran a story on it. Braton noted the condition of the flag that used to fly there at the meeting.

“The residents of this community are upset,” said Rosemary Cuilla-Frisone, a CB 10 member who lives a block from the park. “We cannot even get the bocce court fixed. If they want this to happen, they need to clean our park first and get police there.”

Standke stressed that Charles Park is only one of a number of locations around Jamaica Bay being considered in the RFP — the others include Marine Park, Canarsie Pier and Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, as well as Riis Park and Bayswater Park in the Rockaways — and added that her agency is not certain if a bidder will propose Charles Park for any recreational offerings.

“We are not 100 percent sure what we’re going to get,” she said.

She stressed the Parks Dept. did not see the plans as a big revenue maker and is doing it to promote unused parkland.

“The idea is to bring the focus back to these parks no one has really visited before,” Standke said.

The members of the board who live in the area expressed a variety of concerns about the idea, including the dangers that exist in the waters next to the park that could make it a bad place for canoes and kayaks. CB 10 member Peter Granickas noted that the waters have an undertow and swimming has long been banned at the park’s shore.

“The undertow didn’t disappear, just the signs warning of it,” he said, adding to the frustrations about the park’s conditions.

Board members also criticized the lack of communication between community organizations and the National Park Service and Parks Department. Standke said she had tried to make it to an earlier CB 10 meeting, but was unable to.

That didn’t sit well with board members.

“How do you not get to this board early on?” Frank Dardani, CB 10’s parks committee chairman, asked. “When we don’t get this information prior to the bids, it’s a slap in the face.”

Braton added that she appreciated Standke coming, but wanted the NPS to also come to the meeting. She said the board has supported the idea of transferring Charles Park from federal to city control.

Opposition to the RFP was unanimous at the meeting, and the entire board agreed to oppose the proposal pending improvements to the park and more consultation with the community.

Dorothy McCloskely, president of Friends of Charles Park, agreed with CB 10.

“Until the National Park Service figures out how to run Charles Park on a daily basis, they should not be proposing these ideas where there is no park ranger posted and no regular maitenance," she said.

That may have lit a fire under the NPS.

On Tuesday morning, as joggers and park goers came to soak in the first summer-like day of the year, crews worked seeding and tilling the baseball field and picking up trash. An NPS police vehicle patrolled the path.

At least one regular visitor to the park, who was walking along the trail Tuesday morning, said it was the first time she had ever seen a police vehicle there.

“Hopefully this keeps up,” she said.

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