Improving Newtown Creek walk - Local committee brainstorms as four-year anniversary of park draws near

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With the one-year anniversary of the Newtown Creek Nature Walk fast approaching, Greenpoint community members made suggestions to Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Parks Department officials for making the walk more accessible to residents and tourists alike.

At its July planning meeting, The Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee (NCMC) discussed eight aspects of improving the park’s maintenance, which remains under the purview of the DEP. In particular, residents asked for a bathroom for visiting students, weeding and tree replacement along the walk, and updates on when the Visitor’s Center would be completed.

“What’s going to ensure getting these projects done with all the cuts to city agencies?” one community member asked, referring to a number of projects that have been delayed since the opening of the walk.

DEP Director of Community Partnerships Debra Pucci assured NCMC members that the maintenance would be completed and that the project remained a priority for the city agency.

“It’s an important venue for the DEP. We’ll try to find the funding for it,” said Pucci.

The Nature Walk, whose entrance is marked by two large boulders on the corner of Paidge Avenue and Provost Street, opened in late September 2007 and has seen an influx of school groups, community residents and tourists enjoy the space and its views of Long Island City and the East River. Designed by environmental sculpture artist George Trakas and constructed by the DEP in conjunction with the city’s Department for Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program, the walk integrates the space between industry and nature while giving visitors their first access to the creek’s waterfront in decades.

Many of the NCMC members inquired about when plaques with text and layout along the walk and navigational signage from subway stations would be installed, when the bathroom would be open and the status of graffiti removal efforts.

“It’s a beautiful nature walk that is already used by schoolchildren but there’s no park house and no toilet,” said Laura Hofmann, a Greenpoint resident and NCMC member said. “It’s a pretty long walk to get there and you want to have a park to relieve yourselves.”

DEP officials, many of whom work at the agency’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, answered many of the residents’ questions about the different aspects of long-term and short-term maintenance the park receives. The DEP revealed that the Visitor’s Center’s opening is dependent on receiving a shipment of glass for windows on August 18. The opening was scheduled for November 1, 2008, though that may get pushed back until the spring to avoid conflicts with Election Day.

Meanwhile the Parks Department will be planting trees on 77 locations along Paidge Avenue and Commercial Street in the northern part of Greenpoint on October 1, 2008, which will connect the Nature Walk with Manhattan Avenue and the proposed Barge Park site.

DEP officials also outlined plans for regular weeding, graffiti removal and the replacement of trees onsite, which will remain under the 18-month warranty and will not bear additional costs to taxpayers. Agency officials also said they would bring up issues regarding signage with the MTA, which regulates signs within subway stations.

While NCMC members were pleased with the updates regarding tree replacement and other aspects of routine maintenance, the installation of the bathroom and the presence of garbage along the banks of Newtown Creek remained a concern. The Coast Guard has lifted a barge, which recently sank near the mouth of a creek, out of the water, but has not yet removed the structure, causing refuse to wash up onto the Nature Walk. Hofmann and her husband reported finding debris along the creek several times over the summer.

“The Coast Guard has been helpful but things are moving slowly,” Hofmann said.

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