2013-08-09 / Community

Go Park!

By Gregory Benedetto

Perhaps you’ve seen us. No, you’ve definitely seen us. We’re in the bright blue shirts with a giant Audigieresque Parks leaf on our side. We’re everywhere. Literally.

We’re greeting on beaches from 32nd to 116th. We’re planting spartina grass on an island off Broad Channel. Painting barriers on Shore Front Parkway? We’ve got that. Beach debris left by Sandy? Got that, too. Weeds think we’re the invasive ones. All told, we are some 200 strong and we’re from all over the city and we are all over this Rock.

We are the Jamaica Bay / Rockaway Parks Restoration Corps (JBRPRC) and we have a question: How can we help?

It was a cool morning on the last day of April when we reported to Bayswater Park on 32nd Street in Edgemere. After a round of introductions, we piled into vans and headed uptown.

Our first assignment: Put sand back on the beach. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, we went up and down the beach blocks of Neponsit, Belle Harbor and Rockaway Park; we went to what remains of the boardwalk in Arverne and Far Rock. We hauled it out of a playground on Beach 59th Street.

Many of you were kind enough to offer water and snacks. We hope our efforts emphasized our thanks.

JBRPRC is a joint effort between the New York City Parks Department and the National Park Service so we work city run facilities and local federal parkland as well, including Jacob Riis Park, Floyd Bennett Field and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Early in our campaign, we were joined by our sister corps (based out of Canarsie) for a week in Riis Park.

It rained that week, but we filled many bags with garbage left by the storm, and a difference in both the health and aesthetics of Riis Park was quickly noticeable.

At several areas we worked along the bay in Floyd Bennett Field, you’d have to replace the words “bags” with “dumpsters”, and “garbage” with “docks, tires, trees, and filth,” all remnants of the storm. There are seriously strong muscles and stomachs in these crews.

With Memorial Day looming, we went to the beach. For almost 125 blocks, we marched through the sand armed with pickers and stickers and the beach was ready for Opening Day. Enter the greeters; the “Concierges of the Sand.” At most of the beach heads from 32nd to 116th, you see a couple of blue shirts. Nearest beach you can swim at? Closest restroom? Place to grab a cool drink or a snack? Look for that bright blue shirt.

Recently, a few of us joined the American Littoral Society on Ruler’s Bar, an island off the coast of Broad Channel to plant spartina grass. Don Riepe, the Northeast Chapter Director, would ferry us out close to the island in his “Jamaica Bay Guardian” and we’d jump in and wade ashore.

We put some 88,000 plants in that ground. Over time the roots will solidify the sand and restore this natural barrier.

While some of us were in the bay, others were priming 35 blocks of jersey barriers on Shore Front Parkway for the beautiful murals that have now appeared. Paint and equipment provided by Benjamin Moore, two primer coats, some stencils and a fantastic effort have brought a shine to the beachside road.

The beaches are busy. The people came back. Boardwalk Empire is being filmed down in the 30’s and 40’s. CBS’s Elementary was on 116th.

The sunshine is strong, breezes break the heat. You can get a taco or lobster roll or a hot dog. Of course, we didn’t do that but we helped put people back where they could enjoy it. Remember: if you see a bright blue shirt with a giant Parks leaf and have a question, please ask. Go Park!

Gregory Benedetto is a resident of Belle Harbor and a member of the Jamaica Bay / Rockaway Parks Restoration Corps. The Corps is a partnership between NYC Parks and the National Park Service supported by funding from the U.S and NY State Departments of Labor and recruitment assistance from the NYC Department of Small Business Services.

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