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New York State recently acquired a spectacular site on Staten Island's south shore, protecting 194 acres of rolling plains sweeping up to cliffs along Raritan Bay. The land was part of the Mount Loretto property, owned by the Archdiocese of New York. It will now be open to the public for the first time.

The south shore of Staten Island has most of the last undeveloped green space in the City, but subdivisions are encroaching. Staten Islanders have long advocated the preservation of the Mt. Loretto property. "The site was recognized as one of the most beautiful -- if not the most beautiful -- in all of Staten Island," said Ellen Pratt of the Protectors of Pine Oaks Park, a group that has been a driving force in Staten Island parks protection.

By all accounts, the purchase was worked out amicably by the state, the Archdiocese, and the Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation group. TPL negotiated the $25 million purchase for the state. Because the state could not allocate the entire amount at one time, the conservation organization took title to two-thirds of the land, allowing the state to buy the land in three yearly installments. According to those involved, Cardinal O'Connor had a personal interest in having the land preserved. "The Archdiocese was willing to come to a price that was affordable by the state," said Eric Kulleseid, New York State Director of the Trust for Public Land.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation will manage the site, an ecologically rich area of meadows, woodlands, wetlands, and shore that provide habitats for many bird and fish species. Initially, the land will be open for passive recreation like hiking, fishing and birdwatching. Hearings will be held later in the year to develop a management plan for the property, which might include the creation of hiking trails and an environmental education center.

Anne Sounds Off:

Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden and Community Board 14 have stopped the city from building a temporary Mets minor league ball field in Brooklyn's Parade Grounds. They also nixed what many believed was our best chance to have the park's disgraceful playing fields restored. The community group ACORN, which had also sued to block the Mets, agreed to drop its opposition when the city modified the plan to address neighborhood concerns -- and promised to spend $12 million to fix up all the Parade Ground playing fields. Community members as well as the leaders of the youth sports leagues that play in the Parade Grounds were deeply disappointed that the plan fell through. Chris Bockelmann, president of the Caton Park Association, said, "We would have gotten two good things -- the fun of having the Mets and the renovation of the Parade Grounds -- and now we're getting neither." Sure, we shouldn't have to rely on a deal like this fix up the Parade Grounds. If the city can spend more than $100 million to buy the Yankees and the Mets minor league stadiums, it can come up with money to provide adequate ball fields for youth and amateur sports. Golden was right, in principle, that the City should have involved the community from the beginning and conducted the proper reviews. But the political reality was that before the proposed Mets deal, attempts to find enough money for renovating the Parade Grounds had not succeeded. The citizens of Brooklyn are now counting on Golden to find another way to get the Parade Grounds back in shape.

Anne Schwartz is a freelance writer specializing in environmental issues. Previously, she was the editor of the Audubon Activist, a news journal for environmental action published by the National Audubon Society, and an editor at The New York Botanical Garden.

In The News:


Two lawsuits continue to postpone construction of a temporary baseball field in Brooklyn's Parade Grounds for a Mets minor league team. The City's Economic Development Corporation is offering a number of compromises if the plaintiffs -- Brooklyn borough president Howard Golden and community activism group ACORN -- agree to abandon the lawsuits. Changes include reducing the size of the facility from 4,500 to 2,500 seats and making an arrangement for parking that doesn't use playing fields, a provision that soccer officials had strenuously opposed. The Mets have also agreed to leave after two years, whether or not a permanent stadium is ready. Most significant, perhaps, is EDC's offer to finance the renovation of the entire Parade Grounds. The organizers of the youth baseball and soccer leagues, who were at odds with each other over the original plan, have worked out their differences. Seeing this as a prime opportunity to remedy terrible drainage problems and restore barely playable fields, the leaders of baseball, football, and soccer leagues now strongly favor the Mets plan, provided the EDC's offer is put in writing.

On December 13, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice James Hutcherson let the lawsuits stand, and scheduled the next hearing for January 10, while urging City lawyers to sit down with both plaintiffs and work out a deal. As of mid-December, ACORN was in negotiations with EDC and optimistic that an agreement could be reached. A spokesman at the borough president's office said there were plans to meet with the City. Meanwhile, the Mets were reported to be looking at alternative sites in Queens. Construction of the field must begin soon in order to be ready for the June opening of the Class A New York-Penn League games.

Anne Sounds Off:

A November article in the New York Times discussed the wonders the Central Park Conservancy has bestowed upon Central Park through its fundraising, largely from the elite who live in proximity to the park. It also addressed the issue of what happens when we depend on private funds to maintain our parks, and how parks in poorer neighborhoods miss out. There are a few exceptions, like Bette Midler's New York Restoration Project, which as been cleaning up parks in northern Manhattan, and the Trust for Public Land, which helped fund the purchase of the threatened community gardens. But most of the big money goes to places affluent donors know and frequent. Privatizing parks maintenance is another way to widen the already shocking gap between rich and poor in our city. What happened to the idea that parks are public spaces and should be supported by the government, for the benefits they provide to all members of society?

Anne Schwartz is a freelance writer specializing in environmental issues. Previously, she was the editor of the Audubon Activist, a news journal for environmental action published by the National Audubon Society, and an editor at The New York Botanical Garden.

In The News:


The Topic: "Parks and open spaces" refers to those areas set aside by the city, state, or federal government for public access and protection of natural resources. Issues relate to the creation, preservation, restoration, maintenance, and best use of these spaces.

The Context: With more than 27,000 acres of parks, playgrounds, beaches and other recreational areas, New York City has the largest city park system in the U.S. (Add to that a state park in every borough, the Gateway National Recreation Area and four botanical gardens.) Yet the city has fewer acres of green space per person than any other major American city, and many neighborhoods lack parks. Community gardens on vacant city lots -- there are more than 750 -- are often the only green oases in low-income, minority communities.

Anne Schwartz is a freelance writer specializing in environmental issues. Previously, she was the editor of the Audubon Activist, a news journal for environmental action published by the National Audubon Society, and an editor at The New York Botanical Garden.



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