2004-07-16 / Front Page

Guyanese Festival Shuts Down Riis Park

By Brian Magoolaghan

Access to Jacob Riis Park was cut off last Sunday evening when a record number of visitors, the vast majority attending a Guyanese festival, overwhelmed local roads, the parking lot and parks staff.

District Ranger Rita Mullally said between 45,000 and 50,000 visitors – a number not seen since the 1980s – turned out for the festival forcing the closure. Visitors came from as far away as Canada and Ohio for the massive event.

About 8,000 vehicles, many of them containing six passengers, filled the parking lot to near capacity, while other visitors came by public bus and dollar-vans, Mullally said. Comparatively, about 2,500 vehicles used the parking lot on July Fourth.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched from the park, over the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and past the Belt Parkway entrances on Flatbush Avenue when people began to leave at about 8 p.m., police said. Mullally described a "mass exodus," which tied up both north and southbound traffic for hours.

"It looked like a major rock concert had just let out," remarked one Neponsit resident who got caught in the mess while returning from upstate.

Congressman Anthony Weiner, who attended a picnic and concert in Fort Tilden, was delayed more than an hour and a half by traffic. He made his displeasure known.

The overwhelming crowd also left a hefty amount of trash and clean-up work. Ballfield 1 was covered with broken glass. The National Park Service was also left with a tab of $10,000 in overtime expenditures.

The festival "was just too big for the facilities," Mullally told The Wave this week after the NPS held a postmortem meeting to discuss just how the festival, which was expected to draw only 1,500, grew so large.

The NPS and the New York City Police Department had advance notice on the festival – organizers from the Guyanese-American Ambassadors Association (GAAA) filed a permit weeks in advance and paid $6,000 for the privilege of inviting 1,500 guests to ballfield 1, but the growing mass overflowed westward past the bathhouse. NPS officials said large "splinter groups" turned out and the GAAA, the original permit holders, insist they had no idea that their numbers would be so great. The GAAA could not be reached for comment.

The NPS is not pursuing further compensation for their unexpected costs, Mullally said.

The Wave found several Guyanese websites promoting large-scale "family festivals," but none for Riis Park.

This is the fifth year that the group has organized a festival on the Sunday following July Fourth; about 15,000 people attended last year, according to NPS estimates.

Despite the huge number of visitors and the frustrating traffic, the NYPD and U.S. Park Police said that there was just one arrest made in connection with the event.

"They were incredibly well behaved," said a 100 Precinct officer who was detailed to the park for several hours.

Guyana is located in northern South America and has a population of about 700,000 people. There are about 211,000 people born in Guyana living in the United States, according to the 2000 Census Bureau statistics.

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