I knew there was a problem when I was coming out of Prospect Park early one Saturday morning while a man was hauling in one of those massive chrome SUV-style barbecue grills that look out of place anywhere except the backyard of a Westchester County McMansion.
Look, I love barbecue as much as the next man (especially if the next man is holding a juicy pork shoulder that has been braised for six hours over a low applewood flame). But even that smoky deliciousness smelled pretty horrible in Prospect Park this summer, when weekend barbecuers spilled out beyond the park’s seven legal grilling areas and commandeered areas that have long been off-limits to flame broilers.
And on the busiest days — Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day and a few of those really beautiful Saturdays — people like that guy with the mega-grill, started showing up at 6 am to get the choicest spots.
When all the legal grill locations — near the Third Street, Grand Army Plaza, Ninth Street, 10th Avenue, Parkside Avenue, Vanderbilt Street and Parkside Avenue entrances — were taken, people pretty much set up wherever they wanted.
“It was so crowded that people basically parked their stuff wherever they could find a spot,” said Jen Bettencourt, recalling the scene on Memorial Day weekend. “There were adults, children and pets trying to navigate around smoking barbecues. The whole thing is just one big accident waiting to happen.”
Frankly speaking, there did not appear to be much enforcement by the NYPD or park rangers.
“[Illegal grilling] is something that we’re very concerned about,” said Prospect Park Alliance spokesman Eugene Patron, “but we don’t have the luxury of adding more officers. … The volume of people must make it difficult to patrol.”
Patron said that park enforcement officers handed out cards to explain the danger of illegal barbecuing (Cards? How about summonses?) and taught scofflaws how to properly dispose of their coals (douse the hot coals with water after cooking, wrap them in foil, and then toss them into the labeled BBQ-ash barrels, according to the park’s Web site.)
Park Slope Civic Council President Ken Freeman said he didn’t want to comment on how the association would respond to the long, hot, smoke-filled summer until the issue could be discussed by the group, but he did say he was concerned about the increasing fire hazard.
“I’d hate to see something go wrong,” he said, but quickly added that he would be reluctant to call for more legal grilling areas.
“I wouldn’t want to see too much of the park turned into a barbecue area because obviously that takes away from other uses and some of the attractive natural settings of the park,” Freeman said. “It’s a tough balance.”
Perhaps, but before next summer, the borough’s ham-burghers had better sit down and chew over the issue. My half-baked solution? Create more legal grilling areas, crack down on those who don’t follow the rules and, most important, pass me a hot dog, will ya?
— with Sarah Portlock