Whether to keep open or close New York City’s parks has been a concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. While they attract lots of people to confined spaces, parks are also a vital and valuable space to exercise and find some peace of mind.
We spoke with Susan Donoghue, President and Park Administrator at Prospect Park Alliance about the organization’s current campaigns, the main species and wildlife inhabiting the park, and how PPA is adapting to the current crisis by working with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Prospect Park Alliance represents the park that is the heart of Brooklyn, and you can watch their videos on nyxt.nyc/prospectpark.
“Prospect Park Alliance places a high value on the importance of the park, and all parks and open spaces, to the quality of life of all New Yorkers, and applauds the city for keeping our parks open and accessible during this pandemic.”
Susan Donoghue, President and Park Administrator at Prospect Park Alliance
What is your story working with Prospect Park Alliance?
I have worked in this capacity for five and a half years and feel fortunate to support a mission so important to the city’s health and well being. Prospect Park sees over 10 million visits per year and is an invaluable community resource, especially at this time. Prospect Park serves as Brooklyn’s Backyard and is vital green infrastructure for the residents of Brooklyn and beyond. I worked for the NYC Parks Department prior to joining the Alliance and am proud of the strong partnership we have with the city to support and maintain Prospect Park.
Can you share a brief story of how Prospect Park Alliance came to exist? What societal problems was PPA created to solve?
Prospect Park Alliance was founded in the mid-1980s when parks citywide were in a state of significant neglect and visitorship to our parks were at an all-time low. Our founders believed in the importance of parks and open spaces in the quality of life of the communities that call Brooklyn home and making the park open and accessible to all.
How is the organization working to protect parks and waterways? What are the main species that live in the park?
A core focus of the Alliance's mission is restoring and sustaining the park's 250 acres of woodlands, Brooklyn's last remaining forest. The organization has invested heavily to reconstruct the park's watercourse, which flows through the woodlands and includes waterfalls, pools and a 60-acre lake (Brooklyn's only lake); and to rebuild its core woodlands, the "lungs of Brooklyn," with native species of trees, shrubs, and plants. The park is an amazing habitat for all sorts of wildlife and an Important Bird Area. More than 250 species of birds have been spotted in Prospect Park, and the park is also home to bats, fish, turtles, bees, butterflies, and many more species of wildlife.
Does Prospect Park Alliance collaborate with other organizations? Which ones and how?
In addition to working closely with the city, including the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the Alliance partners with a number of organizations in the care of the park, such as the Natural Areas Conservancy on our more recent woodland restoration efforts. We also partner with a number of cultural organizations on public programming, from BRIC on the treasured Celebrate Brooklyn! concert series to the Brooklyn Arts Council, Brooklyn Public Library, and caribBEING on smaller-scale programs for the community such as the Brooklyn Roots Festival, University Open Air and caribBEING Prospect Park.
How is Prospect Park Alliance adapting to the current public health situation?
Prospect Park Alliance is working closely with the New York City Parks Department and also the NYPD to both monitor and inform the public on how to safely use the park. NYC Parks has placed signage throughout the park to educate the public on social distancing measures, and both the NYPD and the Parks Enforcement Patrol are surveying the park to ensure rules enforcement. Additionally, the Alliance has posted on our website and social media channels information about social distancing and safe use of the park during this time.
Closing or not closing the parks has been a concern these days. What is the Alliance’s perspective on this? How is the dialogue with the community?
Prospect Park Alliance places a high value on the importance of the park, and all parks and open spaces, to the quality of life of all New Yorkers, and applauds the city for keeping our parks open and accessible during this pandemic. We are concerned about the impact of budget cuts on the city to enable them to continue to do their part in keeping parks clean and safe and are working closely with New Yorkers for Parks and other groups to spread the word on the importance of funding parks so that they can continue to play their essential role in our community.
What positive changes have you seen in regard to public and recreational spaces in NYC? What changes would you like to see in the near future?
Over the past several decades, the growth of public-private partnerships to sustain our parks has resulted in the restoration of many of our treasured green spaces, as well as the creation of new open spaces and parkland. Our mission is to keep the park open and accessible as Brooklyn continues to evolve, and to make certain all communities in Brooklyn have the opportunity to enjoy the park. We are focused on continuing to restore the park, balancing the needs of all New Yorkers, and helping the public enjoy all it has to offer.
What is one of your favorite spots in the Park that you wish more people would explore?
There is a quietly beautiful section of the park in the northeast corner, a former Rose Garden. It is adjacent to the Children’s Pool and an area where we have set our sites for our next phase of restoration. We have already done considerable work in this area in terms of forest restoration, thanks to a state grant to restore the forest after damage from hurricane sandy. It is a quiet and contemplative area with excellent bird watching and lots of open space to wander. A bit off the beaten track but worth a visit.
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