East River State Park in Williamsburg closed over the past weekend, but sources indicate that a plan to reopen the park for the remainder of the winter may ultimately be approved by the state.
Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, working with the 94th Precinct, Open Space Alliance and Friends of East River State Park, has a tentative agreement in place to keep the park (located on the waterfront at Kent Avenue and North 9th Street) open. In the plan, police officers from the 94th Precinct will open and close the park’s gate on North 8th Street and Kent Avenue every day and conduct sweeps at the site throughout the day, Lentol’s office will pay for appropriate signage, and the Friends group will pay the $1,000 insurance premium to keep the park open.
“It’s not going to close, unless the state turns down the deal that is going to be accepted,” Lentol said. “It is really going to take a transfer, a paying of the premium, graciously done by the Friends of the park.”
A spokesperson for State Parks said that a number of operations issues needed to be addressed before the plan could be approved, particularly liability insurance, public safety and snow removal
“We have been working with Assemblyman Lentol’s office to see if there is a way that we can reopen the park, prior to the April 1st date which is scheduled for reopening now,” Eileen Larrabe, a spokesperson with State Parks, said. “We have laid out what has had to happen and they’re looking to see if there’s a way to make it work. We have not heard a date about when they’re supposed to get back to us.”
Assemblyman Lentol said he was encouraged with the negotiations and thanked State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash for supporting the proposal.
“Instead of talking about why the park should be closed, they were willing to talk about exploring ways of being open,” Lentol said. “She was more than willing to work out something that would keep it open. She didn’t want to close it any more than we do.”
After threatening to close the park for the winter months due to budget shortfalls, the New York State Department of Parks and Recreation officials bolted shut the wrought iron gate on North 8th Street and Kent Avenue early Saturday morning on the third day of the new year. A sign remains posted on State Parks Department officials claimed in recent weeks that the reason they were closing the park was that they did not have the funding to pay for staff and state police officers to monitor and maintain the site and that the park was likely to be used less by the public between January and April. The practice of letting parkland lay fallow for a season has also been applied for forests and state parks upstate that receive fewer tourists during the colder months.
Michelle Rodecker, an administrative assistant with Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, whose offices are located across the entrance of the park, first noticed the lock and a sign warning that the park would be closed to the public when she went into work during the morning of Jan. 3. At noon, she observed several families peering through the gate, trying to determine why the park was closed.
“When I got back to the office, I checked my e-mail to see if anyone saw the sign and shed some light on it,” Rodecker said. “People came down from the street with their lunch and they just sat on the sidewalk having lunch. It was pretty sad.”