A quick walk along the southwest corner of McGolrick Park in the last few weeks reveals it has been getting something of a facelift.
At some point in early July, a sign appeared on the fencing outside of the McGolrick Park dog run, announcing renovation and that the run would be closed from July 12th – Aug. 1st. It came as somewhat of a surprise to the dog owners who frequented the park. Soon, enough secondhand information (and in some cases third and fourth) began to filter its way down from parks department employees; there would be a transition from dirt to gravel, that the trees would be preserved, and there would be a pavilion to provide shade for owners.
The talk, coupled with the sign, elicited a chorus of mixed replies: some owners praised the idea of gravel, noting it would clean their dog’s paws and possibly help with the endless amounts of broken glass that seemed to rise, Poltergeist-like, out of the mud after every heavy rain. Others were more wary, saying the mulched and dirt-y run provided pets a little relief from the concrete of the city, and the switch to gravel would take that cushioning away. Also, there was speculation about dust—an oft-heard complaint about the newer dog runs in Cooper Park and Bushwick Inlet.
As August 1st approaches, the renovation has made quite a bit of progress, and it looks like owners will have it both ways: the back half of the run is still dirt. The front half is gravel, and the trees have been preserved. The pavilion, however, seems to be have been a rumor.
To get more info on the origin and intent behind the renovation, I reached out to a few of the groups involved. According to Peter Washburn, director of the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF), the renovation of the run is just part of the larger McGolrick Park Restoration. That restoration was one of thirteen projects brought before Greenpoint residents in November of 2015 and voted on to decide which five should receive GCEF funding.
The fund itself, of course, is the result of the 2010 settlement between ExxonMobil and then New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Its $19.5 million dollar budget is intended to reverse the damage done by the 17-30 million gallon oil spill that was first noticed off Newtown Creek in October, 1978. GCEF’s mission has been to partner with local groups, receive proposals both large and small for ideas that would “address environmental areas of concern for the community, such as water quality, groundwater, open space, reduction of toxic pollution, and air quality.”
According to Peter, in the case of the thirteen projects from 2015, the first step was GCEF “working with the McGolrick Park Neighborhood Alliance (MPNA) in 2014 to help identify potential projects.”
The Horticultural Society of New York was the group who proposed the restoration to McGolrick Park. Its goals and aims included an overhaul to the dog run, hosting community events such as garden planting and clean-up, soil remediation throughout the park, reseeding the grass, and creating a butterfly and bee sanctuary. The money requested from GCEF was $526,056, with matching grants and services from partners valued at $2.1 million.
The dog run is the second part of the plan being to be implemented, according George Pisegna, director of the Horticultural Society. The first part was the pollinator garden (for the birds & the bees), and next up will be restoration of the Urban Oasis Garden in the park along Monitor Street.
The group selected to do the work in the run was Dragonetti Brothers Landscaping. According to George, three sub-contractor bids had to be submitted. And the criteria involved more than just price: “The Dragonettis were chosen because of their experience with parks,” Pisegna says.
So what does the work entail? Konstancja Maleszyńska, Greenpoint Parks Project Coordinator of the Open Space Alliance (OSA), says the areas of the dog run dirt remains are designated tree root zones. In those spots, “the old mulch has been removed, the ground has been hand-graded and hand-aerated to improve the health of the trees, and a layer of new mulch is being put down,” she says.
Outside the tree root zones, which were established by Parks Forestry, is where the gravel lies. “The design was to remove the old deep deteriorated mulch and regrade with stone and pea gravel to improve drainage and minimize maintenance. Of course, as the dogs run between the areas, some of the mulch will shift into the pea gravel area. This mulch will be easy to remove with leaf blowers or brooms,” says Maleszyńska.
Minimizing maintenance right now is key, because as Konstancja is quick to point out, the parks department all across the city receives approximately .5% of the city’s overall budget.
And while some Greenpoint residents may feel an embarrassment of riches having two parks, McGolrick and McCarren, to choose from, she shakes off the notion by pointing out that the average amount of park space per resident in Greenpoint is far less than other parts of Brooklyn and the city, which benefit from broad spaces such as Prospect Park, Central Park, and Hudson River Park.
So, getting rid of contaminated mulch, stopping it from spreading throughout the park by improving drainage and cutting down rain runoff, preserving the integrity of the trees, and helping out an overburdened and underfunded park staff – all admirable ambitions.
How will dog owners react? With opening day upon us, time, as the saying goes, time will tell.