July 07, 2004
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES RIDGEWOOD RESERVOIR TO BECOME PARKLAND
Department Of Environmental Protection To Turn Over 50 Acre Site Of Decommissioned Reservoir To Parks & Recreation
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) First Deputy Commissioner David Tweedy announced that the Ridgewood Reservoir, an old City of Brooklyn water supply complex that has not been used regularly in over 40 years, is being turned over to Parks & Recreation and will be developed as a public park.
“This is a rare opportunity to add a large parcel to the City’s vast network of parks, which is now at over 28,800 acres and counting,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “We look forward to restoring the Ridgewood Reservoir so we can return open space to the people of Brooklyn and Queens and create a park that all New Yorkers can enjoy.”
The Reservoir straddles the border of Brooklyn and Queens just south of the Jackie Robinson Parkway. The 50-acre property is on the high ground above Highland Park and has commanding views of the park and numerous surrounding green spaces and cemeteries. The Parks Department will evaluate the potential of the land and meet with the community and local elected officials to plan potential uses such as recreational areas, bike and jogging paths.
“Parks and water supply projects have a long and intertwined history in New York City, with the two often existing side-by-side,” said Commissioner Ward. “DEP is very pleased to be able to contribute to City parks in such a way, and we hope that future generations can benefit from this land just as previous generations benefited from the water it held.”
“It’s not everyday that we can celebrate the addition of over 50 acres to our network of City parkland,” said Commissioner Benepe. “We look forward to this land becoming a place for New Yorkers to recreate, relax, and enjoy the outdoors. In the meantime, it will be an informal nature sanctuary.”
The Ridgewood Reservoir remained in regular service until 1959. From 1960 to 1989, the reservoir’s third basin was filled each summer with water from the City’s massive upstate reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains, and used sporadically as a backup supply for parts of Brooklyn and Queens. The entire complex has sat idle since 1990.
Ground was broken for the Ridgewood Reservoir on July 11, 1856 on the site of Snediker’s Cornfield. Water was first raised into the Reservoir on November 18, 1858 by two large pumps each with a capacity of 14 million gallons per-day. Force Tube Avenue on the south side of Highland Park, was named for the high-pressure water mains that once ran under the street.
By 1868 the Ridgewood Reservoir held an average of 154,400,000 gallons daily, enough to supply the City of Brooklyn for ten days at that time. Today, New York City uses around 1.1 billion gallons daily.
CONTACT: Megan Sheekey 212-360-1311
Mayor gives birth to new park
BY DAN JANISON
July 8, 2004
In the first step of a long-term proposal, Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday shifted control of 50 natural acres in Cypress Hills from the city's water system to its park system for future recreation.
Funding and designs for the Highland Park expansion, which will incorporate the wetlands of the old Ridgewood Reservoir, are yet to be determined.
"It's on its way to becoming a new park for New Yorkers," Bloomberg declared in an outdoor ceremony against the backdrop of reedy wetlands on the high ground near the Brooklyn-Queens border.
On one side of the mayor was Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, accepting a symbolic oversized "deed," labeled Ridgewood Reservoir, from Deputy Environmental Commissioner David Tweedy.
Bordered on the east by old cemeteries and to the north by the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the land becomes the largest addition in 23 years of parkland to Queens, where most of it lies.
"The work remains ahead, to figure out how best to program it, and figure out how make it into great parks," Benepe said. "Probably some of it will remain in its natural state as a wildlife sanctuary. But there are some possibilities for ballfields and for a lot of other things depending on what we can do with the communities."
Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, whose district includes the Brooklyn part of the acreage, recalled coming from his home in Bushwick many blocks away to play ball and jog with his father at Highland Park.
"This has tremendous ramifications for Cypress Hills and Bushwick," Dilan said, though he added, "It would be better if DEP could fork over a few dollars for the capital improvement and for the renovation of the park." City parks budgets have been tighter in recent years.
Access to the added area may prove easier from the existing entrances to Highland Park in Brooklyn than from the Queens side where the parkway limits the options.
Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), who said he could not attend the announcement because of a family emergency, expressed support for the move, given that the land has gone unused for so long.
Access on foot now involves getting past a trash-strewn wooded area that was being cleaned and up broken stone steps that once led to a mainstay of the 19th century water system in the once separate city of Brooklyn. New York City decommissioned the last of 3 basins in the reservoir more than a decade ago, and it has been a fenced-off wetlands since.
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.
July 8, 2004
As Reservoir Becomes Park, Camper Gets Eviction Notice
By COREY KILGANNON
A campsite at the reservoir, on the Brooklyn-Queens border, that Luis Rodriguez says he has used for the last three years: "It's totally different living here.''
Mornings are usually quiet, bucolic times for Luis Rodriguez, 31, who lives in a small tent in Basin No. 1 of the Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn-Queens border.
For 45 years, most of the reservoir has been dry and it is usually a quiet place, enjoyed primarily by joggers and cyclists on the paved pathway encircling three overgrown basins.
But yesterday morning, the old reservoir was buzzing with city workers preparing the grounds for a ceremony to announce that the 50 acres of overgrown land, one of the last wildernesses of New York City, was to become a city park.
For three years, through blistering summers and frozen winters, Mr. Rodriguez said, he has camped under the tall trees, in a $175 tent bought at Macy's and pitched on the forest floor, the bottom of a reservoir reclaimed by nature during the decades that most of it has sat idle.
"It's totally different living here," he said, standing in front of his tent, which he has fortified with tree limbs and a heavy tarp. "You're in the city, but you're far away from it."
If Mr. Rodriguez is a modern-day Thoreau, it seems that he will soon lose his Walden. The land was handed over to the Parks and Recreation Department by the city's Department of Environmental Protection, which maintains and oversees the city's water supply.
City officials said yesterday that anyone living on reservoir property was there illegally. A Parks Department spokeswoman said that the area would remain closed until the department determined new uses for the property and completed renovations.
While city officials could not confirm all the details of Mr. Rodriguez's story, they said they had no reason to believe it was not true.
Mr. Rodriguez was napping yesterday on reservoir property, on a piece of cardboard near the chain-link fence that encompasses the property.
Awoken by a reporter, he agreed to give a tour of his forest domain, including his tent and several former encampments that include an abandoned reservoir gatehouse and a cave running under a section of the jogging path.
He lowered himself by rope down the steep stony slope into the woodsy basin and showed his backpack full of clothing, his bottles of water around his encampment and a large overturned milk crate for keeping his belongings off the ground.
There were King Cobra malt liquor cans strewn about the encampment and nearby there was another shelter shaped like an oversize coffin, crudely fashioned from corrugated metal and plastic sheathing.
"That's where my friend Colombia lived," Mr. Rodriguez said. "He lives in Prospect Park now, in Brooklyn."
By 1 p.m., he followed a reporter over to a news conference presided over by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who called the handover the largest single acquisition of parkland in Queens since 1981, and one that would add 50 acres to the 140 acres of Highland Park, which is adjacent to the reservoir.
The city's parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, called the handover of parkland "one of the largest acquisitions of urban parkland in recent memory."
"Today is Christmas in July," he said. He said that the property would remain "an informal nature sanctuary" for now, and that department officials would evaluate it and seek community comment and was likely to consider possible uses like ball fields, recreational areas and bike and jogging paths.
"Probably some of it should remain in its natural state," he said.
Mr. Rodriguez watched as Mr. Benepe was handed a large paper scroll with "Ridgewood Reservoir" printed on it.
"I guess this means I'm evicted," he said.
Indeed, by the end of the day, work crews had patched his hole in the fence and removed his rope down to the reservoir. Mr. Rodriguez was nowhere to be found.
He said earlier in the day that rising rent and a growing discomfort around people drove him to the woods, where the only living things were usually small, four-legged and pestering him for food scraps.
"I'm nervous around people," he said. "At first, I tried living up at Bear Mountain, but there were too many park rangers."
Mr. Rodriguez said that he learned outdoor survival skills as a teenager while spending several months camping in the wild, under a program in West Virginia for wayward youth.
But much of his existence relied upon his proximity to civilization. He bought his food at the deli and cooked it on a campfire. He did his laundry at his parents' place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and told them he lived in a small rental apartment, to avoid embarrassment.
Mr. Rodriguez, who said he used to receive welfare benefits and food stamps, said that he now relied on donations from family members and from park regulars. In warm weather, he rummaged for food and drinks left by people picnicking in Highland Park. But he kept his encounters with daily civilization to a minimum.
Mr. Rodriguez was dressed in clean clothes, a practice he said helped keep city employees from suspecting he lived on the property.
"I don't want to look all sloppy so they know I'm living here," he said, looking down at his Shaq basketball sneakers. "It's hard to keep new sneakers white though."
At the news conference, Mr. Bloomberg called the handover of the reservoir an example of a long successful formula in New York City of creating parkland out of decommissioned city reservoir sites, which has been done in Central Park and in Bryant Park.
In a phone interview yesterday, Christopher O. Ward, commissioner of the city's Department of Environmental Protection, called the property transfer "another demonstration of the great transfers from D.E.P. to Parks, taking former water supply areas and creating public recreation space for New Yorkers."
Basin 1, where Mr. Rodriguez lived, is the most overgrown of the three basins that make up the reservoir, which was built by the City of Brooklyn and first opened in 1858. The basins are roughly 40 feet deep with steep sloping sides and have a wide variety of animal and plant life.
For years, it was Brooklyn's main source of water drawing from reservoirs along the south shore of Long Island and Queens. In 1917, it was connected to the upstate Catskills-Delaware system. After two basins were decommissioned, Basin 3 remained in use, mostly to store water used to drain local fire hydrants in the summertime, until finally being decommissioned in 1990.
Mr. Rodriguez said he considered his living arrangements among the best in the city. He walked up to a plateau near the reservoir commanding breathtaking views of Brooklyn, Queens and the Manhattan skyline.
"I sleep here when it's nice out," he said. "People are surprised when I tell them where I live, but I tell them: 'I don't want your pity or remorse. I want you to admire me.' Not everyone can do this, or wants to."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company