Ronny Forbes has caught the gardening bug.
On Saturday, May 5th, Forbes helped other volunteers beautify East River State Park as part of the inaugural “I Love My Park Day,” an event that saw clean-ups at 35 state parks. The initiative is a result of Governor Cuomo’s New York Works Fund, which will pour a record $143 million into the rehabilitation of deteriorating NY parks and landmarks.
Forbes was introduced to Williamsburg’s state park through Stoked, a mentoring program that helps teenagers mix community service with sports activities. Fifteen students from City Polytechnic, the Brooklyn School of Collaborative Studies and Brooklyn Latin School enjoyed an afternoon of painting, planting and raking followed by a round of skateboarding. (AmeriCorps also gave a hand with eight volunteers.) But even as the kids broke out the boards, Forbes was more interested in his newfound green thumb.
“This is fun!” the high school student said, planting a purple begonia. “I learned a lot, like where to position plants, how to put them in the dirt and break up the weeds. Really, how can you not like flowers? You can have a backyard, but you need flowers to make it look pleasing. I want to do more of this.”
That was welcome news to Assemblyman Joe Lentol’s ears. Both he and District Leader Lincoln Restler thanked the community for coming out to revitalize the Kent Avenue oasis. “I have a great love for this park, and it’s one of my biggest triumphs to have established it,” said Lentol. “It’s really important to have a good base of volunteers who will give their time to make the park better than it is.”
East River State was originally developed to be a private-public partnership between the neighborhood and NYU. (The university was to build its own ball fields at the site, which would be open to the community during nights and off-season.) But when the city became interested in the location as a possible aquatic forum for its 2012 Olympic bid, a waiting game ensued, during which NYU bottomed out. The park officially opened with a spectacular view of Manhattan in May 2007, but remained underdeveloped and, because of a continuing budget deficit, heavily dependent on volunteer work.
Much of that effort now comes from Friends of East River State Park, a community group which co-sponsored the event. Friends Chairperson Jackie Meyer immediately fell in love with the park during her first visit in 2009. “My husband and I were so amazed that something like this existed,” said the former East Villager. “We’re water people, so the sight of the rocks meeting the river was our dream of what New York should be.” Friends of East River State Park started two weeks ago when it gained the Natural Heritage Trust as a fiscal agent.
Among the plants introduced to the park on Saturday were various perennials as well as blue beach grass and purple cone flowers. Woodchips were also resurfaced at the playground. Although Meyer intends to respect the natural beauty and history of her newly discovered haven, her head is still bursting with ideas. Future plans include maiden grass, setting up Wi-Fi and bringing back a caboose currently holed up in an MTA lot in Red Hook. “We’re still waiting for a response from the city,” said Meyer. “We’ve already raised $10,000, but we need to reach $40,000.”
For more information, email Jackie Meyer at email@example.com. Tax deductable donations can be made out to:
Friends of East River State Park/NHT
49 North 8th Street 6G
Brooklyn, New York 11249