(Scroll down for the complete report) – with update!
You’re probably asking yourself why The LTVSquad, a group & website dedicated to sneaking into abandoned buildings and tunnels – is featuring a post about an abandoned park trail in Queens. Why would we spend our time at such a place? The answer is simple: we’re looking for the money, and we’re looking for answers.
That’s nearly half a million dollars – for 2 gates.
What money? Well let’s start with the $84,480 that was reportedly allocated to restore the Willow Lake trail in 2007 – Money that either was never allocated or disappeared in a politician’s suitcase. And while we’re at it, let’s question why City Councilmembers Karen Koslowitz, James Gennaro and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent either $229,000 or $385,000 (depending on who you ask) on 2 new 30ft by 10 foot gates to keep the public out of this trail in 2010. That’s nearly half a million dollars – for 2 gates. Why couldn’t they find someone to perform the work for a fraction of that price? (I can think of dozens of iron welding artists who could do it cheap and beautiful). These gates are never open, and designed exclusively to keep people out. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Today, the trail is still closed (as it has been for at least the last 15 years). One partially flooded section of the trail along the Grand Central Parkway is now only barely passable via a ‘bridge’ of rotting junk pallets, sticks, and discarded fencing. The fire-damaged Willow Lake bridge – reportedly destroyed in the late 1990s – is still burned up and left in place with a rapidly molding, temporary structure built over it. Flooded areas along the southern end of the path are now passible via a few $20 paving stones (clearly not handicap accessible). On the east side of the lake, debris and trash are intermingled in the brush where new trees and shrubs were reportedly planted as part of an ecological study by Yale University (I saw a few shrubs, but no trees). Dead trees and invasive vines are still present, creating an eyesore and adding to the clear message being sent by NYC politicians: that no one cares about this parkland.
According to one source, the waters are polluted with phosphorus, nitrates and heavy metals
Attempting to walk through this park truly sends the message home. You really have to see it to believe what an absolute mess it is. The pallet/junk bridge on the west side of the trail is truly ‘special’. Those not wearing thick boots and of sturdy balance should not even attempt this portion of the trail. Take a moment to browse through the photos attached to this post. You would absolutely never see a park in this terrible condition in Manhattan. It looks more like an abandoned chemical lagoon somewhere in the Jersey meadowlands than a park in Queens.
One of the official NYC government web pages about the trail is dedicated to proudly speaking of the wildlife and plants that live here in spite of – certainly not because of – any city government action. 3 thick paragraphs are dedicated to hyping this biodiversity, while one sentence at the end states the trail is closed. (A separate page doesn’t even mention that the park is closed) No reopening date is listed, and so far as we know, the city parks department actually has no plans whatsoever to invest in or reopen this trail. It seems like every year we are told it’ll reopen ‘next year’ (read the various news articles linked in this post – you’ll see what mean – they have been saying it would reopen ‘next year’ since 2006). At least 15 years have gone by and very little has been done. The trail bares the park’s department’s ‘forever wild’ political-speak designation – which roughly translates into ‘rarely maintained’ and ‘completely abandoned’.
A toxic mess, hidden in plain sight?
Perhaps the parks department and elected officials want to keep the gates to this trail closed due to the fact that the area seems to have become a sponge for chemical residue runoff from both the Van Wyck and Grand Central, as well as the the car repair and junk yards of Willets Point (a neighborhood where the city has refused to repave streets or install sewer lines). According to one source, the waters are polluted with phosphorus, nitrates and heavy metals. Visual observations of the flooded sections of the path show a sheen that is possibly chemical in nature. Don’t take my word for it – look at the photos yourself. The Gowanus Canal and Newtown creek look better than this, and they are superfund sites.
The Gowanus Canal and Newtown creek look better than this, and they are superfund sites.
Willow Lake may actually be a superfund site. Only a proper chemical and environmental assessment can determine how polluted the lake is. To the best of my knowledge there is no funding and there are no plans to perform this assessment.
Almost ironically, the trail was recently renamed for Patricia Dolan, the founder and first president of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy. While it’s nice to honor her memory, I believe everyone will agree with me that it would be better to clean up this mess and reopen the park than to simply slap her name on a sign and pretend that this parkland is being anything other than ignored.
Neglect that has not gone unnoticed.
Over the years there have been several damning reports about the condition of the willow lake trail. One published n 2006 by the Queens Tribune is particularly damning, along with another article in 2007, which was also summarized in this Queens Crap post. There is plenty of interest in seeing this park reopen. One local couple was dismayed to find the gates still closed. Neighbors had told them it might open soon. Conversations with another neighbor is what drew me to this park in the first place. He has long complained that the gates are never open. I couldn’t help but to ask the internet why. As you can see from the photos, this park and trail is not likely to open anytime soon.
Why does the city hate outer boro parks so much?
Another angle to this story is the fact that parks in Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island receive little funding when compared to those in Manhattan, or any of the parks along the waterfront of Queens and Brooklyn. In Manhattan, the central park conservancy has raised $700 million in private funding over the last 33 years. John A. Paulson, who grew up in queens, donated $100 million dollars to central park.
The High line, on the west side of Manhattan, has been completely rebuilt. This abandoned railroad viaduct is now opened to the public, with $44 million in backing from the city and various private sponsors. It went from abandoned to brand new and opened in the last 10 years. Willow Lake Trail has been closed during the entire time it took to rebuild and open the High Line.
Willow Lake Trail has been closed during the entire time it took to rebuild and open the High Line.
Brooklyn Bridge Park recently opened – again, another brand new park where $360 million was spent – $5 Million of which was spent on a long new handicap accessible bridge connecting it to the promenade. By comparison, the Willow Lake trail bridge is roughly 100-200 feet long. It has 3 steps on either side and could be easily replaced with ramps created largely of soil. Half a million is likely more than enough to replace this bridge.
Along the east river waterfront in Queens, new parkland is opening all along the LIC waterfront. None of this parkland existed 10 years ago. Gantry Park is beautiful, and well maintained. Up the river in Astoria, a new bike path was (somewhat foolishly) installed just this last winter as part of a $3.46 million bike path project. Additionally, city councilman Peter Vallone has come up with $4M in funding for a concert venue to replace the abandoned diving pool.
Meanwhile, when activists wanted to save the historic St. Saviours church in Maspeth (along with the original forest that surrounded it), a real estate developer was permitted to cut down all of the trees, and eventually construct warehouses on the property. $2M were reportedly allocated towards acquiring the land, but it never happened.
For a fraction of the cost of all of the above mentioned projects, the Willow Lake trail could have the washouts repaired, the destroyed bridge replaced, and be open to the public. Instead it remains closed and de-funded. The message again is clear: absolutely no one cares.
The message again is clear: absolutely no one cares.
This hatred/abandonment via negligence of outer boro parks even reaches the state level. Instead of maintaining the parks we have, Cuomo gave $250k for a study into the construction of ‘queensway’ – which would replace a long inactive LIRR branch which many other activists and politicians rather see revitalized as a rail line to connect south queens and JFK to Manhattan via a one seat ride. $250k – why was this money thrown away on project with no support, when it could have easily gone towards cleaning up and reopening Willow Trail?
Hello? Mr. Cuomo? Queens is calling – and we want answers.
And don’t get me started on what is happening further north – where the Bloomberg administration is trying to privatize huge swathes of Flushing Meadow Park for a new soccer stadium (owned by a billionaire foreign prince of a country with terrible human rights abuses), a larger tennis center, and a mall. I half expect that the next big development plan will be the complete sale of the willow lake parkland – paving it over to create high priced housing, malls, and god only knows what else. The stage is already being set with the neglect and ‘development’ (i.e. destruction) of the north end of Flushing Meadow Corona Park.
If smartly spent, just $1M-$5M would likely be more than enough to re-open the Willow Lake trail. But as we’ve already seen, even the nearly half a million dollars put towards the Willow Lake trail have vaporized. Did the funding ever come through? Did local corrupt Queens politicians spend the money on something else? Who’s pockets got lined with this cash? Perhaps the FBI should investigate? As a taxpayer, I want to see some accountability. I would rather an active conservancy group get the money and start working towards reopening this trail and cleaning up the refuse around the lake. The politicians have completely failed to do this. There is no reason for us to trust that they ever will.
With a minimum of funding this area could be reopened to the public. School classes could be brought here for educational field trips. Neighbors could enjoy some bird watching, get a firsthand view of the state of the park, and hopefully feel compelled to help clean it up through donations or volunteer work. I felt compelled to defend this trail, research and write this article after visiting here just once.
In the longer term, this park requires actual, serious help. No more shell games of money thrown into a fence to keep people out. We need an actual viable solution for managing the pollution and debris here. We need current chemical testing performed on the water of the lake, and perhaps a plan for flushing the stagnate waters clean.
Clean up and reopen this park. Period.
I know I’m not alone when I say this: The citizens of NYC don’t want to wait another 15 years to have access to one of our own parks. We need to demand better. Clean up and reopen this park. Period. For starters, any candidate running for mayor in this year’s election that doesn’t promise to clean up and reopen this trail should not be elected. We need to demand results, and hold those elected officials who have refused to uphold their civic duty thrown out of office forthwith. Enough is enough.
A mere 2 weeks after we published this report, the NYC Parks Department rushed to reopen the trail on weekends, effective immediately (May 31 2013). Problems however, persist. , and none of our questions have been answered. The trail was reopened so quickly, that no formal reopening event took place, and the trail itself is not yet completely passable. We’ll stay on top of this story for the long haul.