HAVE PLANS, BUT NO CASH
Residents Like Lofty Ideas For Reservoir
by Robert Pozarycki
Though there’s no money available for the project to move forward, concepts of a master plan for the Ridgewood Reservoir were well-received by residents during a meeting of Community Board5’s Parks Committee last Thursday night, June 27, at St. Pancras Pfeifer Hall in Glendale.
From historians to birdwatchers, attendees praised the Parks Department for following the recommendations voiced at previous planning sessions and public meetings on the master plan that the 55-acre reservoir— which became naturally reforested after being drained and taken out of the city’s water system decades ago—be transformed into a nature preserve with some recreation in the largest of its three basins.
In the PlaNYC 2030 master plan proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006, a proposal was raised to clear one of the largest basin and convert it into athletic fields. This was designed to make Ridgewood Reservoir and the adjacent Highland Park one of eight regional parks citywide.
But the $50 million originally allocated for the project was scrapped as the city was struck by the Great Recession. While money was allocated to make improvements to the perimeter of the site, Parks Depart- ment officials indicated additional cash will be needed in the years to come to make any of the three concepts presented last Thursday—or a combination of those ideas—a reality.
The city, however, moved forward on the first phase of the project, which includes improvements to the perimeter of the reservoir and a causeway between two of the three basins. It is expected that the improvements will be completed in the next several weeks and will attract more guests to the area.
There to outline the master plan for the reservoir were Joelle Byrer and Katie Raschdorf of the Parks Department. The concepts, Raschdorf said, were the “distillation” of 5 1/2 years of research and outreach conducted by the agency and Mark Morrison & Associates, a consulting firm which developed the proposals.
Helping nature take its course
Over the years it has been reforested, the Ridgewood Reservoir has become an important stopover on the “Atlantic Flyway” used by migratory birds, Raschdorf stated. According to Parks Department research, about 127 different bird species inhabit the reservoir at any given time, including seven different kinds which are classified as endangered or threatened.
“The Parks Department realizes how important this is to the migratory habitat. We have addressed it in our concepts,” she said. “We are not bird killers.”
In addition to a diverse avian population, the Ridgewood Reservoir has several different ecosystems filled with all kinds of plantlife, both natural and foreign to the region. The easternmost basin (Basin 1, adjacent to Salem Field Cemetery) has many of the characteristics of a wetland, while the center chamber (Basin 2) includes a natural lake. The largest of the basins (Basin 3, adjacent to Vermont Place) is much like a forest but lacks wetland characteristics.
All three basins, however, are threatened by the influx of invasive plant species, Raschdorf stated. Chinese bittersweet—which she compared to the fast-growing, ivy-like kudzu—is present in Basins 1 and 3, and the aquatic ecosystem in Basin 2 is threatened by phragmites (wetland reeds).
Under all circumstances in the master plan, the Parks Department would remove any and all invasive plant life and replace it with plants meeting the characteristics of the basin’s diverse ecology, she explained. This technique was used in the agency’s previous work at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and Inwood Park in Manhattan.
“We have come up with an ecological restoration plan that is tailored for each one of the areas and is designed to take into account what is growing there now, what is thriving their now and what will flourish in the future,” Raschdorf added. “We’ve also taken our extensive studies and developed plant palettes that fit into the habitats that we’re trying to encourage.”
From light to major touches
Each of the three concepts keeps most of the reservoir as a natural preserve, although two of the plans introduce an expanded variety of recreational and educational elements. Byrer explained that none of the concepts were set in stone, and residents—in considering a final master plan for the reservoir—can pick and choose the ideas they like from each proposal.
“You don’t have to pick one concept,” she said. “It’s a bit like a menu option.”
Concept A offers the “lightest touch,” Raschdorf said, as public access will be restricted from Basins 1 and 2. Controlled public access will be introduced into Basin 3, with a ramp leading down to the floor of the basin 25 feet below the perimeter pathway. A series of pathways—constructed out of “stabilized aggregate” and boardwalk material, in some spots—will be created within the basin to allow visitors to explore the natural surroundings.
Educational nodes would be installed at certain points along the pathways to inform visitors about the history and ecology of the reservoir, she added. Scenic overlooks would also be created on the causeway between Basins 2 and 3 to allow visitors and birdwatchers to look out over both chambers.
Concept B contains much of the same features of Concept A, but introduces pathways for guided tours into Basin 1, which Raschdorf stated is the most ecologically sensitive of the three chambers. A floating dock would also be constructed in Basin 2 to allow for boating and canoeing.
A four-acre open lawn for passive recreation—similar to the Lawn Meadow in Prospect Park—would also be created in Basin 3, Raschdorf added.
Concept C provides the most direct impact on the reservoir as it offers greater opportunities to public access in all three basins, she stated. Along with incorporating the ideas of Concepts A and B, this concept would result in more stabilized pathways in Basin 1 for guided tours and a large, eight-acre open field with athletic fields in Basin 3.
The large culvert to be created in the wall separating Basin 3 and Vermont Place—part of the decommissioning of the reservoir as a dam, as mandated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation— would be widened and include an asphalt path to allow vehicles to enter the basin as needed, Raschdorf said.
The decommissioning—which includes the installation of openings in the basin walls to prevent no more than six feet of water from being held within at any given time—is being funded in the second phase of the Ridgewood Reservoir preliminary improvements.
All three concept plans include the restoration of the pump house and gate house on the northern end of the reservoir. The pump house would be transformed into a Parks Department security office, while the gate house would be renovated into a ranger station equipped with a comfort station for visitors.
No cost estimates for either of the concepts were provided by the Parks Department representatives. Once community residents form their own master plan for the project, Raschdorf stated, the Parks Department will conduct an environmental impact statement and calculate the cost needed for the project to move forward.
She added residents who liked the plan would need to reach out to their local elected officials in the years to come and advocate for funding.
Having their say
During the public comment portion of the meeting, many expressed relief that the city seemingly abandoned the idea of clearing out Basin 3 and replacing it with athletic fields. While they praised the Parks Department for their concept schemes, they offered their own criticism and ideas for each plan.
Tom Dowd suggested that the final master plan for the Ridgewood Reservoir create a nature preserve which can be appreciated and studied by guests of all ages while also preserving the natural habitat. Noting that the state ranks near the bottom in the country in ecotourism, Dowd suggested introducing elements such as a viewing platform and a Victorian garden to attract birdwatchers and nature lovers to the site.
Maryellen Borello offered that the Ridgewood Reservoir presented the opportunity to give students a chance to see what the area looked like well before it was settled and industrialized.
“The present Ridgewood Reservoir is such a wonderful gift of nature. We have the area gone back to its early days,” she said. “Children don’t have to imagine; they can see it and appreciate how it really was— quiet, except for bird sounds and leaves rustling in the breeze.”
Borello, along with Joy Fieldstadt, suggested the city keep Ridgewood Reservoir for nature and renovate athletic fields inside of Highland Park.
David Quintana spoke against introducing active recreation elements at the reservoir since the Parks Enforcement Patrol agency is understaffed. He cited a report which indicated that last year, there were only two PEP officers assigned to the entire borough of Queens.
“This is a much, much better plan than” original proposals for the Ridgewood Reservoir, he said. “I just wish the Parks Department agreed with the community when there was money in the budget.”
“In this case, less is better,” added Lou Whitaker. “We’re looking to develop it? Mother Nature did it for us. Put some historic sites, a learning center. But why destroy what is beautiful?”
Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri praised the Parks Department for forming “a real master plan.” He stated the board’s Parks Committee— co-chaired by Kathy Masi, who presided over the session—would further examine the concepts and form a recommendation in August.
In the meantime, Arcuri invited the public to continue to send written comments and observations on the future of the Ridgewood Reservoir to the committee for its consideration. Remarks can be sent by mail to Community Board 5, 61-23 Myrtle Ave,. Glendale, NY 11385; or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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