Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Scoping meeting? More like Sno-Cone meeting.

And yet we came--the Fort Washington Park Dog Owner's Group was pretty much the entire civilian turn-out yesterday morning--six of us dog people in total, including Jerry Culligan from the Rocky Run (who we consider an honorary member of FWPDOG). Considering the freezing weather, the fact that we'd had less than a full week's notice, and that quite a few of our members simply could not make it three days before Christmas, we were happy to have that many. No other advocacy groups put in an appearance.

Also present was Liz Ritter of Community Board 12, Jennifer Hoppa and Bob Redmond from the Parks Department, and Peter Mahoney from Stantec, the consulting firm hired to plan and execute the changes made to Riverside and Fort Washington Parks under this phase of PlanNYC. And there were two other people (both from the Parks Dept, I believe) whose names I didn't quite get. It's surprisingly difficult to hear clearly when there's an arctic wind whistling around your head, and you're wearing a hat and a hood at the same time. I'm just glad I bought a lot of cold weather clothing last winter.

This storage/nursery area just south of the ballfield would become a children's playground under the current plan--no parent advocacy groups showed up to ask about equipment, safety issues, etc. Just six locals who take their dogs to the park a lot. I draw no conclusions from that. I'm just saying.

The finer points of engineering tend to be lost under such formidable weather conditions, but we managed to get our points across to each other fairly well.

How cold was it? It was so cold, Marc actually wore a jacket and a knit hat, instead of his trademark vest and baseball cap.

We really do get that the rickety plank bridge at the north end of the ballfield has to go--we just don't agree that means there has to be a paved path alongside this tranquil lovely stretch of riverfront. There are alternatives, and we discussed a few.

Not so much huddling together for warmth as to be able to hear each other's voices. But yeah, probably for warmth as well.

Liz Ritter made a rare find towards the end of the second meeting--a piece of 'found art', crafted and left for whoever might want it by local artist Konstantin Bokov.

A good omen, we hope. And a positive meeting, overall. The parks people were certainly willing to listen, and gave us a lot of time to get our points across (not all scoping meetings are so loosely structured, but of course many are far better-attended). We're very guardedly hopeful that some changes we believe would be harmful to the park and many of its most faithful visitors can be avoided, or at least mitigated.

The proposed kayak lockers by the dog beach seem to have been scrapped. As I've said in the past, we've got nothing against kayakers using the beach, but it's just not a very good idea to be storing kayaks down there. There was also a chance of some kind of children's recreation area over by the beach, but the prevailing mood seems to be to leave that pleasant grassy tree-lined area alone--there is no possible way its loveliness could be improved upon, and we were happy to learn the parks people mainly felt the same way. We were also rather pleased to hear some of the parks people actually refer to our dog beach as a dog beach--not exclusively, of course. But that's perfectly all right--our dogs don't want to exclude anybody from their beach. Not their style at all.

It's still far from a sure thing there'll be any changes--in the current economic climate, the money now allocated to North Manhattan parks improvements could just go away for a while--but it's also possible that the Obama stimulus package could lead to an expanded PlanNYC--nobody really knows, and this uncertainty, in no small part, motivated the hasty convening of this scoping meeting. If Phase I improvements go ahead as scheduled, we will certainly have large areas of the park closed off for significant periods of time in the coming year. As long as we're not shut out afterwards, we can deal. We're not enemies of change--just bad change. We hope to see good changes in the coming year, and not just in our local parks.