By Adam Brock
The weather was too beautiful yesterday not to spend the sunset outside, so I decided to longboard to East River Park, the newly opened state-park-in-progress on the Williamsburg waterfront. I rolled up just in time to catch the last rays reflecting off the Empire State Building – worth every uphill push. As I was making my way to leave, I noticed that the northern edge of the site, a good three acres or so, was covered in thick green vegetation. It looked like the start of a riparian zone, with smallish cottonwoods, chest-high grasses, and a variety of stunning purple wildflowers. It occured to me that the spot would make a great site for a bioblitz, and I made a mental note to return to it in the next couple weeks.
I approached the forest ranger on duty and asked him if all the plants were endemic.”I’m not really sure,” he told me politely, “but in three or four days, we’re gonna mow ’em all down.” According to the ranger, what I’d mistaken for a permanent, progressive feature of the park was just the site of the next phase of construction. He explained that they were keeping the cottonwoods, but razing most of the rest to build a playground. I mused aloud that they should have thought to surround the playground in the native vegetation, so that the kids felt like they were walking into the forest to play. “You know,” he said, “that’s a great idea. But, well, it was Albany’s decision, not mine, so…”
The activist in me wanted to do something, make a last ditch effort to make this beautiful patch of land thrive amongst the jungle gym. But the pragmatist in me knew that the ranger’s resignation was well-founded. Three days might be just enough time to catch the attention of the NYC Parks Department, but the extra layer of bureaucracy of State would probably make any desperate pleas laughable.
So I did all I could do: listened to the crickets, watched the skyline fade to grey and blue, and paid my respects to my neighborhood’s best – and shortest lived – plot of open space.