Help improve your local park
by Michael Perlman
Jan 12, 2016 | 3917 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of Friends of MacDonald Park in the Forest Hills park with group founder Steve Melnick.
Members of Friends of MacDonald Park in the Forest Hills park with group founder Steve Melnick.
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Park lovers now have the chance to get creative and channel their inner urban planner.

As part of an initiative to encourage residents to play an active role in the beautification and versatility of the city's parks, the Parks Department launched the “Parks Without Borders” program in November. The public can log suggestions for improvements to their local park on interactive maps at nycgovparks.org.

The program’s goal is to make park entrances more inviting with enhanced sight lines, and integrate underutilized spaces adjacent to parks to expand usable open space.

Residents of Forest Hills and Rego Park are already taking advantage of the program to rediscover and improve their own neighborhood parks.

“Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz allocated $6,000 for MacDonald Park, and we received an $800 capacity fund grant from the City Parks Foundation and Partnerships for Parks, which will be used for tools and plantings,” explained Steve Melnick, founder of Friends of MacDonald Park.

Melnick recently submitted his own Parks Without Borders request, suggesting a butterfly garden, children's events such as reading and puppet shows, musical events, and yoga.

“The entranceways need to be more open and inviting, and benches, tables, and bike racks could be added to bring more people into the park,” he said. “The cracked sidewalks need to be reconstructed and LED lighting would improve security.”

MacDonald Park, which sits along the vibrant Queens Boulevard between Yellowstone Boulevard and 70th Road, was named on April 25, 1933, after Captain Gerald MacDonald (1882–1929), a WWI veteran from Forest Hills who served as an engineer at the Battle of Meuse-Argonne, erecting bridges and digging trenches.

On May 26, 1934, a bronze statue of MacDonald was dedicated to those who served in the war. In 1964, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy addressed an audience of 700 in the park. It is also the site of several Forest Hills tree giveaways and the 112th Precinct’s Night Out Against Crime.

Another local park is Yellowstone Park on Yellowstone Boulevard between 68th Avenue and 68th Road, which includes the Arthur J. Katzman Playground. Katzman (1904–1993), whose nickname was “the conscience of city government,” served in the City Council for 29 years. When the land was slated for residential development, he advocated for the creation of a park, which opened on May 27, 1968.

Forest Hills resident Alexa Weitzman founded the grassroots organization Yellowstone Park Alliance.

“This is a vibrant mixed-use park, and there’s always room for more greenery,” she said. “It’s nice seeing grass, lots of open space, and maybe even a gazebo.”

Her wish list for the park includes additional plantings, resurfacing the bleachers in the basketball courts, and asking local dog owners how the trails can be upgraded. She envisions introducing lower fences to make the park more inviting.

Ehrenreich-Austin Playground, between 76th Avenue and 76th Drive on Austin Street, also merits sprucing up, and residents now have a chance to follow in the footsteps of Leo Ehrenreich (1882–1962). Under his “one-man civic association,” he advocated for Forest Hills and Kew Gardens playgrounds, and the park plot was acquired on May 2, 1947, after Ehrenreich appealed to then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Borough President George Harvey.

Amy Long founded Earth Citizens Club for Ehrenreich-Austin Playground. The group submitted its own ideas to Parks Without Borders, which included minimizing the fence, restructuring benches, and introducing a central arts installation. To date, the group has planted daffodils, launched a cleanup, and coordinated the Family Yoga Fun Day last August.

“I would like to see our parks become a center for community events such as performances, a venue for arts and culture, and educational activities to promote ecological mindfulness and sustainable living, especially now when climate change and the environment is such an important focus,” she said.
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