It’s been one of the busiest years of restoration work on record in Fort Greene Park.
Besides the $2.5M reconstruction of the Willoughby Avenue entrance, Fort Greene Park Director David Barker — who took on this job one year ago this week — has been tirelessly spearheading projects all over the park that don’t require quite that level of heavy machinery. With the help of NYC Parks staff, FGPC, and over 1,300 volunteers in the last year, David has made tremendous progress towards both remedying challenges that have ailed the park for years, and ensuring that Fort Greene Park can withstand the heavy use it sees. As his first year at the helm comes to a close, I sat down with David to discuss some recent restoration work around the park, and reflect on what’s been an amazing twelve months of landscape restoration, team-building, and leadership.
JM: What’s been happening all fall?
DB: We have made headway in addressing the park's greatest landscape challenge — keeping our slopes from washing away — by adding topsoil and plantings. The challenge is nothing new. I have photos of crews topsoiling slopes from 1909! We are blessed with a dynamic public space that sees heavy foot and paw traffic throughout the year. After a while, this traffic compacts the soil to such an extent that nothing can grow. You see gullies and wash-outs forming that are hazardous and unsightly. When it rains, the paths, entrances, and sidewalks become covered with debris from the runoff that cascades down the compacted slopes.
JM: How have you been able to accomplish all of this?
DB: The restoration work has been carried out by city park workers and more than 1,300 volunteers who gave over 4,000 service hours this year. Some of these volunteers live across the street or they visit the park for a one-off day of service as part of a corporate team building activity. Companies have contributed close to $20,000 this year for restoration projects. The Fort Greene Park Conservancy played a vital role in helping provide supplies and volunteers to carry out the work, in addition to the full schedule of programming they ran this year. Finally, crews from the Central Park Conservancy have carried out 226 hours of lawn restorations around the monument and provided training and mentorship for my staff.
JM: How do these fall restoration projects fit into the greater context of the work you’ve been doing in Fort Greene Park?
DB: The overarching motivation for the restoration comes from our neighborhood's growing population. Just look out from the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument at the towers rising around Downtown Brooklyn. We need to take steps to shore up the park's landscape so it can rebound from this heavy and increasing use. We don't want the park to be loved to death.
JM: Have you encountered any challenges along the way?
DB: Restoration projects require water, time, and fencing. The dry conditions this summer made watering a necessity. The park has only a few ground hydrants, so we’ve often had to roll out 300 feet of hose to get plants to establish. A lot didn't make it — such as the hedges around the Monument — owing not just to irrigation issues, but also the fact that not everyone wants to alter their routes through the park and respect the fencing.
JM: What are you most proud of?
DB: The Parks Department workers that make this place tick. Believe it or not, we don't have a gardener assigned to the park. Yet the city maintenance supervisors — Andres Pagan and Eric Thomann — and their crew of seasonal workers have stepped up and played an active role in lawn restoration and horticultural improvements. For instance, they planted hundreds of daylilies on a slope along Myrtle Ave to help alleviate erosion and shore up the hillside. This comes in addition to the "taken for granted" tasks like moving trash to the perimeter so that massive garbage trucks don't have to enter the park, or sweeping and blowing leaves and debris off pathways and staircases.
JM: What still needs to be done?
DB: We need to scratch "done" from our vocabulary! There's never an end point. We like to say we are moving toward a more "finished" park.
JM: What can folks expect going forward?
DB: Priority projects for the coming year include the restoration of the dirt desire trails that formed around the Willoughby Ave construction project and more reseeding at the top of our slopes to attack runoff at the source. Moving downhill, we will focus on the entrances that get swamped with debris. I'm excited to monitor the plants included in the Willoughby Ave restoration. They were painstakingly selected precisely for their ability to curb erosion by the landscape architecture firm that designed the project, Nancy Owens Studio. All these new planting areas will be a model for the "finished" park look.
There will be more fencing and temporary interruptions in the park's circulation network — whether from a small lawn restoration project or the next phase of major $3 million construction set to start in a few years thanks to funding from Council Member Cumbo and Borough President Adams. We removed hundreds of feet of mangled fencing in my first few months on the job, but folks should expect to see more wherever we attempt to get plants to grow.
Fencing also plays a role in accommodating and managing the various user groups here. A few sledding spots will be given a rest this winter so that we can have grass for the spring and summer season. Also, the fencing around the lawns at the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument will stay to provide lush grass for passive recreation. We will try to keep the fencing low and find attractive options.
JM: How can people get involved?
DB: We are looking to develop a corps of regular volunteers from the neighborhood to adopt garden beds. Without a gardener, I'm hesitant to go full-bore with establishing new plantings in our 30+ beds. There's so much that’s needed after planting — weeding, mulching, and especially watering. We will train and equip you if you can commit to a few hours a week. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.
JM: Any general end-of-first-year reflections?
DB: I'm just blown away by the vast network of groups that contributed in so many ways this year. I look back on PUPS installing more dispensers for dog waste bags, the Fort Greene Park Tennis Association filling in cracks in the courts with their own supplies and labor, or the Myrtle Village Greene Community Garden hauling away hundreds of bags of park leaves for composting. Local schools — from Brooklyn Tech student clubs to elementary schoolers — also gave us many volunteer days. Park patrons express their love for the park by pitching in to its upkeep and success.
Programming and Development Coordinator, FGPC