Many Queens residents only experience Idlewild Park, a 160-acre patch of wetlands near JFK Airport, as a smelly swamp strewn with litter and the occasional car abandoned on its shore.
see the depressing sight as they drive on the famed “Snake Road,” a
windy stretch of Brookville Boulevard that cuts a narrow concrete river
right though the mud and tall grass.
things look different a few hundred feet from the road, where the reason why
people are fighting to preserve the wetland – an integral part of the
18,000-acre Jamaica Bay and the even larger New York-New Jersey harbor
estuary – is as clear as its waters.
group of intrepid activists from eastern Queens took to the water last week,
paddling around the wetlands of Idlewild Park to get a direct sense of just
what it is they’re fighting to save.
they found was surprisingly different from what most people see from the
water is clear enough to see the mussels a foot or two below; the air is
fresh; and rare – at least for the eyes of urban New Yorkers – birds
like willets and snowy egrets fly freely and lounge on the tall grass.
area is whisper-quiet except for the calls of birds, the sound of your
paddle and the occasional plane taking off from JFK, which used to be called
eight members of the Eastern Queens Alliance (EQA), a consortium of civic
associations based in this corner of the borough, climbed through a hole in
a fence protecting Idlewild along Huxley Avenue on the afternoon of June 21.
sounds like a renegade act, but the activists had the help of the New York
City Parks Department, which hosted the trip.
city agency provided eight canoes – piloted by Urban Park Rangers, Queens
Parks Commissioner Richard Murphy and Assistant Commissioner for Citywide
Services Jack Linn – for the one-hour tour, which was organized by Barbara
Brown, chair of the EQA.
Parks guides helped the mostly novice paddlers navigate the waters of
Idlewild, which during the high-tide trip ranged from just a couple of
inches in the grassier parts to five feet in the more open waters.
eight community members who went out were all in Idlewild’s waters for the
first time and marveled at how clean the water and air were, and how
important it is for people to experience Jamaica Bay — a federally
protected area that hosts endangered species, filters the borough’s
groundwater and keeps the ocean from flooding the southern half of the
borough and much of Brooklyn.
was really important,” said Cynthia Curtin, president of Queens
Village-based Wayanda Civic Association, right after the trip. “We should
be bring the kids out here.”
the boating and binoculars was an earnest, longtime effort to protect
Idlewild and the rest of Jamaica Bay by community activists and city, state
and federal government agencies alike.
who has been quietly fighting along with the other members of her
consortium, said she’s currently trying to arrange more boat trips in
Idlewild and the Bay.
She hopes the trips will drum up more interest in a situation whose
out-of-sight nature puts it out-of-mind for a lot of people.
also petitioning the Parks Department to open an environmental center at
Idlewild, just like the one at Alley Pond Park.
that’s a long way off, according to Linn.
In between paddling, one of the Parks Department’s
second-highest-ranking officials said that because of the current fiscal
crisis, such a center is years away.
In the meantime, Brown is pushing ahead with smaller initiatives, like arranging occasional cleanups and fundraising walks. She’s also heading a lobby that’s trying to block big developments like Triangle Equities’ Brookville Center, a huge mall and storage facility that would pave over 23 acres of wetlands.
Board 13, a highly sympathetic forum for Brown and a source of much support
for the protection of the borough’s southern salt marshes, passed a
resolution early this year that calls on the City to “immediately cease
any planning or review process in this endangered area of Queens” until
and unless seven conditions respecting the environment and local laws are
conditions demand that projects are disclosed in detail long before
they’re executed, are environmentally sensitive, follow all zoning laws
and building codes, incorporate open space and include safe traffic
resolution also calls for all local projects to include comprehensive
environmental impact studies.
federal government seems to agree
that Idlewild and Jamaica Bay are important enough to save.
report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the Army
Corps of Engineers claimed that Jamaica Bay, along with the city’s Upper
Bay, is the New York-New Jersey estuary’s most ecologically diverse
wetlands are also monitored and studied by the Environmental Protection
Agency, which designated the area part of an “Estuary of National
Significance” in 1988.
EPA created the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program (HEP) that year,
as the local implementation of the 1987 Clean Water Act.
There are 28 such estuary programs nationwide.
premise of the HEP, a combined effort of federal and local agencies right
down to individual activists, is that an ecosystem like the one Idlewild
consists of a delicate balance of food chains and water deposit cycles.
Any disruption to any part of the estuary, which ranges from Idlewild
to New Jersey’s Sandy Hook Bay to the lower Hudson River valley, can
disrupt the entire system.
Congress agrees with the concept; in 1987, it required the HEP to include
the New York Bight, a part of the Atlantic Ocean extending about 100 miles
beyond the waters of Jamaica Bay.
to an EPA documents about HEP, “Because the Harbor and Bight are
inextricably linked within the larger ecosystem, the two plans were
and state agencies are also casting their attention towards Idlewild and
the recent boat tour, the Parks Department, with the Departments of
Transportation and Sanitation, has also done some cleanup work in the area.
agencies ran a cleanup of Snake Road this spring, picking up a lot of the
construction debris, bottles and commercial waste left by illegal dumpers.
year the Parks Department lifted two abandoned cars out of Idlewild that had
been there for two decades.
But at least one such car remains in the marsh off Snake Road right
said that the Parks Department installed 29 miles of fencing around Idlewild
to help stave off dumpers, but nature knows no boundaries: storms and tides,
he said, can bring hulking pieces of debris like tractor tires and entire
boats over to the wetlands.
said that while roadside cleanups continue, the Parks Department currently
doesn’t boat out to the borough’s wetlands to pick up debris.
tiny boats needed to navigate the shallow waters couldn’t carry off the
bigger debris, he said, though he and other Parks employees did photograph
whatever debris they saw during last week’s trip.
the meantime, State Senator Malcolm Smith, who sent representatives to last
week’s boat tour, has promised to send state money down to help preserve
City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, chair of the Council’s Parks and
Recreation Committee, held a hearing on June 20 calling for the protection
of city-owned properties that are currently outside the jurisdiction of the
would like the land, including Jamaica Bay, transferred to the Parks
Department, he said, noting that the borough’s wetlands are important not
only to the harbor, but to the entire country.
more information on the fight to preserve Idlewild, or to get involved,
contact Barbara Brown, the chair of the Eastern Queens Alliance.