Monday, August 28, 2017

Dr. Marion Sims Statue Vandalized In Central Park


By Geoffrey Croft 

The statue of controversial gynecologist James Marion Sims was defaced in Central Park over the weekend.

The word "Racists" was spray painted in red paint on the face and on the back of the statue. 

No cameras are located in the immediate area according to police who are investigating.

The vandalism was discovered on Saturday, 9 a.m.

Last week City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito held a press conference calling for the removal of the statue amid revelations for more than a decade that Sims performed experimental operations on enslaved women without getting their consent or giving them anesthesia.   

The bronze and granite Sims monument was originally dedicated in 1894 in Bryant Park. It was moved to the perimeter of Central Park at East 103rd Street and 5th Avenue in 1934, across from the Academy of Medicine, of which Dr. Sims was a member.

The monument is among the statues that a city commission is reviewing for possible removal following the deadly white nationalist rally on August 12th in Charlottesville, Va. 

That demonstration was organized to protest the removal of a statue of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

Often referred to as the "father of modern gynecology," he founded the first hospital for women in America in New York City in 1855.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Central Park: Root System Decay Cause Of Tree Failure Injury


By Geoffrey Croft

Root system decay caused the massive American Elm tree to come crashing down on a family of four  on Tuesday in Central Park.

An inspection determined the tree fell over “as a result of decay in the root system beneath the surrounding pavement,”  according to the Central Park Conservancy,  the non-profit group responsible for tree maintenance in the iconic park.

 The group said the tree was last inspected in November.

“There were no visible signs of decay or disease,”  conservancy spokeswoman Jordan Jacuzzi said.

“The conservancy employs tree crews seven days a week who regularly inspect and maintain Central Park's nearly 20,000 trees according to industry standards,” she said.

On Tuesday morning Anne Monoky Goldman, 39, was out with her three young boys when the massive tree suddenly fell, pinning the family underneath.

The mother was listed in critical condition with a broken neck at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center Wednesday, according to police sources.

Her 3-year-old son Grant suffered a fractured skull. His injuries are not expected to be life threatening.

Her two other sons, James 4 months, and Will, 4, received less serious injuries.

Yesterday a family visiting from Spain was struck by a fallen tree branch in City Hall Park.

On July 31st,  a tree fell over on top of a woman who was sitting on a bench in Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx.

Injuries by falling trees or tree limbs are fairly infrequent, according to internal Parks Department documents. 31 people were injured by falling trees or branches between 2011 and 2015 according to data obtained from a Freedom of Information Law request.

That number is dramatically different however from data compiled from the City's Comptroller's office.

Each year there are typically more than 100 notices of claim related to injuries from fallen trees or tree limbs each year, according to the Comptroller’s office.

Read More:

Central Park tree that fell on family had rotten roots, conservancy says
New York Daily News -  August 16, 2017 - By Thomas Tracy, Reuven Blau, Chelsia Rose Marcius

Central Park: Woman & Kids Struck By Massive Tree
A Walk In The Park - August 15, 2017 - By Geoffrey Croft

Tree Falls On Woman In Bronx Park While Sitting On Bench
A Walk In The Park - August 1, 2017 - By Geoffrey Croft

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Central Park: Woman & Kids Struck By Massive Tree

A massive American Elm tree suddenly came down near 62nd Street and the West Drive, striking a family of four who were pinned beneath it.   The incident occured at 10:00am. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge


By Geoffrey Croft

A 39-year-old woman was knocked unconscious by a massive American Elm tree while she pushed a stroller in the park with her three children. 

Anne Goldman,  her three sons, 4, 2 and a 4-month old infant she was carrying wearing a baby carrier were pinned under the branches and tree canapy after the tree suddenly came down.

The size of the tree stetched across the lengh of the West Drive near 63rd Street.

Good Samaritans quickly arrived at the scene and worked together to remove the branches.

An NYPD mounted unit heading down to Trump building detail joined the rescue.

Officers said they heard a loud crack, "It happened very quickly," said police officer Joesph Tomeo.

The mother was lying on her back when police arrived.

"What happened, what happened," officer Tomeo said the woman asked.

The officer described the stroller as, "twisted" from the impact of the tree.

"It was heart breaking," said mounted NYPD officer Meghan O'Leary who also provided assistance at the scene.

FDNY removed tree limbs with chainsaws and EMS treated and removed the family.

All four of the victims were taken to New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.  Police said the infant had a few scratches and bruises.

"God helped her out,"  said Antonio Russo, 57, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn who said he was about 100 feet way on his bike when he is saw the tree come down.

"It came down in slow motion,"  he said. "It came down nice and easy."

Russo said the mother's youngest boy was crying.

"She just wanted to see her baby, " he said.

Investigators at the scene.

This afternoon Central Park Conservancy workers and a contractor removed the remains of the tree.

The incident occurred approximately 40 yards from where a Google engineer was severally injured when a large rotted tree branch fell and struck him in the head.

The city also quietly paid $3 million dollars to settle a case involving an Albanian immigrant from Brooklyn who was killed by a fallen American elm tree near 69th Street while walking through Central Park less than six months earlier.  That case was settled as the jury was being selected.  

In June 2013, a 59-year-old tourist from Indiana was injured after she was struck by a tree limb in Central Park.

Multiple lawsuits against the City are still pending.

  Good Samaritans helped the trapped family, working together to remove the branches.

A Central Park Conservancy worker removing the remains of the tree.

A Central Park Conservancy worker removes the remains of the large canopy debris field after the incident. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge

Read More:

New York Times - August 15, 2017 - By Sarah Maslin Nir and Jonathan Wolfe 

Central Park tree falls on mother holding infant son, trapping her, FDNY says

AMNY - August 15, 2017 -  By Alex Bazeley and Polly Higgins

Mother, Three Children Hurt After Tree Falls In Central Park

CBS - August 15, 2017 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Brooklyn Bridge Park Advocate Foe Sen. Dan Squadron Resigns

March 22, 2010.  The Gang's All Here.  Officials including Dan Squadron (far left) at the ceremonial ribbon cutting on a drizzly morning.  "The City does not have the money to have new parks and fund them," Mayor Bloomberg famously said. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)    Click on images to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

One of the villains in the fight for control of Brooklyn Bridge Park is resigning from his State Senate seat. 

Good riddance say long time Brooklyn Bridge Park supporters. 

This morning controversial State Senator Sen. Dan Squadron sent out a message announcing his sudden resignation effective this Friday. 

Squadron incurred the wrath of Brooklyn Bridge Park advocates in 2011when he cut a behind closed door deal with the Bloomberg administration which gave up his veto power over allowing housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park. 

Staunch park advocate Judi Francis worked behind the scenes on the state level to achieve veto power over future housing development in the park.  

“He told no one,” Judi Francis said of the betrayal. “It was a body blow to the community,” she said.

“He was able to knock 30 feet off the top of one building, that’s what he got for giving up his veto (power) over three buildings that were on the books and any other future buildings in the park,”  Francis said.   

As part of the deal he also helped negotiate a pop-up pool for five years for the park, an RFP for a year-round recreational facility which never went anywhere and two tennis courts that were supposed to be built on top of a maintenance building but were not.  A Community Advisory Council (CAC)  was also established, an entity Ms. Francis calls, “totally dysfunctional.”

“In 2011 he gave up the most powerful thing a legislator can have which is complete veto power over a development project inside public lands,"  she said.

“After much reflection, I have decided to lend my hand to make a difference in states across the country, pushing policies and candidates that will create a fairer and more democratic future,” Squadron wrote today. 

“It’s not possible to take on this challenge and continue to be a full-time legislator, which is what I always promised I would be," he said. 

Squadron has represented the 26th District which covers parts of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn since 2008.   The vacant seat will be filled in this November’s election. 

While running for the Senate he ran on a platform promising to fight residential development housing in the park. 

Squadron defeated incumbent Senate Minority Leader Martin Connor who served for 30 years, receiving 54% of the vote, a victory many say was won in large part with the help of Brooklyn Bridge Park supporters on the housing issue.  (Bloomberg endorsed Squadron for Public Advocate)

He further infuriated park advocates in 2013 when it was revealed in the media that he accepted more than $ 65,000 from supporters of a residential development inside the park,  He took in contributions from members Brooklyn Bridge Conservancy and several Brooklyn Bridge Development Corp.  board members as well as the president of Brooklyn Bridge Park, Regina Myer. 

The betrayal sill resonates today.  

“Six years ago on August 1st, this man gave up his mighty veto over BBP housing,”  Judi Francis said in a statement.

"Just over two years after his election - an election won on the principle of no housing inside our public parks and won by our advocacy to protect BBP from further housing and using our advocacy to point out the many, many ways to pay for the park. He gave up the veto we had lobbied the state to give to him. Why? To further his own unbridled and unprincipled ambition for his own personal gains,"  she wrote. 

Squadron’s wife Elizabeth “Liz” Weinstein rose to head the Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Operations.

In 2013 Squadron also introduced legislation that would have forced non-profit park groups to allocate a percentage of their incomes to other parks. 

That idea was quickly dismissed. 

Squadron previous worked as a staffer on Congressman Anthony Weiner’s 2005 mayoral campaign. In 2013 he ran unsuccessfully for New York Public Advocate a position won by Letitia James who hammered his flip flop on housing in the park.

“We are happy to see him go,”  said Francis who has worked for more than thirty years to acheive a "real  park" when reached by phone.

The City and State's refusel to take responsibly to fund the park's annual maintiance has been at the forfront of the more than decade long fight.

"The City does not have the money to have new parks and fund them," Mayor Bloomberg famously said at the opening of Brooklyn Bridge Park on March 22, 2010.

In 2010 the Bloomberg administration negoiated a $ 55 million dollar deal to hand over control of the former City/State Brooklyn Bridge Park project to the city.  By insisting that the park be "self-sustaining"  as a condition for the city taking control, the administration successfully achieved one of its most sought after goals – to inherit NY State's funding scheme its employes for the maintenance and operation of its public parkland. 

Much of the funding for the operation of NY State's parks is paid from concession and fee revenue. One of the most contentious issues with Brooklyn Bridge Park is the inclusion of housing that the government insists is necessary to pay for the park's operation.

Remember The Stunning Views - July 29, 2013. The panoramic views have been replaced by housing.

Read More:

A Walk In The Park - August 2, 2011 

A Walk In The Park - February 22, 2011 

A Walk In The Park - December 21, 2010

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Police Charge Serial Sex Offender In Queens Parks Attacks

Sketch of suspect Michael Andrade, 45,  wanted in a string of sexual assaults on female joggers beginning in 2011 in Forest Park.   In September 2013 Police released a new sketch of the suspect wanted in the Forest Park rape and had tied him to five more sexual assaults around the area.  At the time a $22,000 reward had been offered for information on the case.  The park has a long history of sexual assaults and other criminal activities. 

In 2009 two woman reported being raped in Forest Park.  In July 2011, Carl Wallace, 30, was sentenced to serve up to 32 years for the 2009 knife-point rape and robbery of a 29-year-old woman in Forest Park.


By Geoffrey Croft

Police charged a Richmond Hill man who terrorized women beginning in 2011 in a Queens Park. The victim's ages were between 13 and 69-years-old.

Police arrested Mark Andrade 45, yesterday morning outside his home of 102-14 91st Avenue, at 9:00am after recovering DNA that matched a 2003 park attack of a 24-year-old jogger.

He was arrested for a March 29, 2003 sexual attack of the jogger  in Forest Park on a bridle path in which the suspect used a stun gun.  

He is also a suspect in five other attacks in the park over six years matching the same the pattern according to police. In all, the pattern consisted of one rape and five attempted rapes.

The female victim was able to grab a beer bottle out of the assailant’s rear pocket she threw it way at the scene. People recovered DNA from the bottle and were able to link him to the crime.

 “This one young lady struggled with him and actually pulled a beer (bottle) out of his back pocket and then threw it,”  said NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce.

“We retrieved that beer bottle as part of the crime scene. That’s where we swabbed and got the DNA,” he said at a press conference today. 

Mark Andrade is charged with Attempted Rape, Robbery (he took the victim’s cell phone), Assault, Attempted Predatory Sex Assault, Sex abuse and Criminal Possession of a Weapon for using a stun gun.

Police said they were able to recover DNA in two of the cases after he was arrested in Nassau County for grand larceny and his DNA was entered into the database.

His last arrest was in Rockville Center, Long Island for grand larceny in 2015. Following that arrest, he was required to give a DNA sample.

Police have DNA in one other (unspecified) attack in this pattern but he has not yet been charged.

Police say he is responsible for six attacks in total on female joggers on the bridal past between March 2011 and August 2013 but has so far been charged with only one.

Andrade has six prior arrests, none for sex crimes including a 1989 arrest in NYC is sealed and five others in Long Island for grand larceny and insurance fraud.


• March 25th,  2011, 11:30 a.m., a 54-year-old jogger was attacked on the bridal path.     The woman was jogging early in the morning when a man wearing a black ski mask grabbed her from behind and attempted to pull off her running tights. She fought him off. 

• September 7, 2011, 10 p.m., a 13-year-old girl was attacked on the bridal path. The suspect threw her to the ground and attempted to pull her shorts down. The victim screamed and fought off the suspect who then fled the location.

• November 28, 2012, 10 a.m. a 40-year-old was attacked on the bridal path

• March 29, 2013, 7 p.m., a 24-year-old female was attacked on the bridal path. (Crime  police charged him with today)

• August 26, 2013, 4:30 p.m., a 69-year-old woman was attacked on the bridal path. (A stun gun was in this attack)

Police have tied the man wanted in a Forest Park rape to five more sexual assaults around the area and have released a new sketch of the suspect.
The 2013 sketch released by police of suspect wanted in several sexual assaults of woman in Forest Park.

Read More: 

A Walk In The Park - September 7, 2013 

A Walk In The Park - August 30, 2013 

A Walk In The Park - June 20, 2013 

A Walk In The Park - March 31, 2013

A Walk In The Park - March 30, 2013 

A Walk In The Park - December 1, 2012 - By Geoffrey Croft 

A Walk In The Park - November 28, 2012 

A Walk In The Park  - August 24, 2012 

A Walk In The Park  - September 9, 2011 

A Walk In The Park - July 21, 2011 -  

A Walk In The Park  - April 4, 2011 

A Walk In The Park - March 26, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Spring Creek Park - A Year After The Murder

A loving memorial to Karina Vetrano has been carved out of the jungle by her father in the area where she was found.   Tall sunflower stocks overlook a grey slate marker where KARINA is etched into the stone. Slate benches have been arranged in a semicircle.    (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

This evening the Vetrano family will be joined by family, friends and neighbors for a first anniversary walk to St. Helen’s Church for moment of silence and prayer to honor, “Our Angel, Karina.”  


By Geoffrey Croft

When is a park a liability?  When a community does not feel safe and scarcely utilizes it. For decades many residents who live near Spring Creek Park have faced that reality.       

What could be an oasis,  a welcoming eden is instead a liability.  Long neglected by the Federal government, and before that by the land’s previous owner the City’s Parks Department,  for decades area residents have complained about the deplorable conditions found in this severally neglected and overgrown natural area.

There are plans to change that.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the brutal slaying of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano, a woman who lost her life doing what she loved, enjoying nature and running in a public park.

Karena's name is etched into a grey slate marker in the area where she was killed. A silhouette of a butterfly and the year she was born 1986 is also carved in the stone.

The killing, and the seemingly random nature and brutality of the crime, shocked the Howard Beach Community and reverberated throughout the city.   

 "She was unlucky that day,"  Philip Vetrano the victim's father said,  commenting on the random nature of his daughter meeting the suspect on that terrible summer day. 

For months after the crime, anger and sadness were clearly palpable in this Howard Beach community. Conversations with somber faced residents immediately turned to the senseless killing.  

Hundreds of white ribbons, a symbol of anti-violence against women, adorned trees and utility poles, and home-made signs including a star which expressed inspirational messages of hope, (below in 2016) could be found as far as a mile away. The heartbreaking symbols, an out pouring of shared community grief. 

There were also heartbreaking symbols throughout this neighborhood of neatly trimmed lawns.  Hundreds of white ribbons, a symbol of anti-violence against women, adorned trees and utility poles, and home-made signs, some in the shape of a star containing inspirational messages of hope, could be found as far as a mile away -  a tremendous outpouring of shared community grief.  

“Why?” an eastern European woman asked as she pushed a baby carriage past a NYPD wanted poster seeking information about the killer.

“She was so young, so beautiful.” 

A few days away from the one year anniversary these symbols have mostly disappeared from public view.  A few tattered ribbons and faded signs remain. The Wanted posters that also once dotted the landscape have all been removed.   

A visit a year after the murder provides a chilling reminder of the conditions she faced that day.  The highly aggressive phragmites weeds that provided cover for the crime have grown back even stronger.  

The forensic grid area where police investigators worked around the clock for weeks, desperately trying to retrieve evidence, is unrecognizable today.   Invasive plants, vegetation that grows upwards of twelve feet high has completely enveloped the area.  

A few yards away from the crime area the unpaved service road is virtually impassable, a solid wall of vegetation on both sides completes the isolation.   

Just off the dirt road a loving memorial to Karina has been carved out of the jungle in the area where she was found.  Tall sunflower stocks overlook a grey slate marker where KARINA is etched into the stone. A silhouette of a butterfly and the year she was born 1986 is carved underneath it.  Slate benches have been arranged in a semicircle.  

Shortly after 5:46pm on August 2, 2015, Karina Vetrano stepped over the low guardrail (top right) on the corner of 83rd St. & 164th Avenue though the invasive weeds and entered Spring Creek Park as she and her father had done countless times before to go for a run.  The area is less than a block away from her family home.  Her body was found less than a half a mile away along a dirt service road surrounded on both sides by a solid wall of phragmites. She was found strangled, beaten and partly nude. Teeth were knocked out and bruises consistent with being dragged through the weeds her found on her body.

The killing brought the management policy of natural areas, in particular, or the lack thereof, as well as how these areas are policed, sharply into public focus.   

For more than five decades, area residents have complained about the impenetrable weeds that cover most of the park. Some of these weeds grow as high as twelve feet creating a dangerous environment which not only fuel wild fires and provide shelter for ticks and mosquitos, but also provide cover for humans that might intend to do harm.     

Those complaints have fallen on deaf ears. 

Since taking over tens of thousands of park acres from the City in the 70’s the Federal government’s policy towards its “natural areas" has been for the most part "let nature take its course."  In other words minimal maintenance if anything at all.    

Proper natural area management is an integral part of the success and sustainability of our park system, including those within urban areas. Many would argue especially in urban areas.   

Twenty-six percent of New York City is parkland, and most of it is under the jurisdiction of City and Federal government. The majority of this parkland is made up of natural areas.    

Spring Creek Park is dominated by highly invasive, non-native plants which cannibalize desired vegetation, limiting biodiversity, and preventing a healthy eco-system.    

Compounding the problem is the history of the site, which is not natural at all.  One hundred precent of Spring Creek Park was created when the government filled in the marsh land in the 50’s.   Some of the fill materials used included contaminates, and illegal dumping over the decades has also added to the problem.     The result has been a fertile breeding ground for the invasive plants that exist today. Phragmites, Japanese knotweed, Porcelainberry, mugwort and other non-native invasive vegetation make up the majority of the upland areas according to an analysis by the National Park Service.  

The condition of the park had a devastating effect last August when a 30 year-old woman, out enjoying the park, was brutally killed under that cover.  

The details are heartbreaking.   

The route Karina Vetrano took the day she was killed. 

On August 2, shortly after 5:46pm Ms. Vetrano stepped over a low guardrail at the corner of 83rd St. & 164th Avenue as she and her father had done countless times before and entered Spring Creek Park, a severely neglected 250 plus acre nature preserve.   

As she ran alone along an 8 foot wide dirt road, she encountered her assailant.  Caught between two solid walls of 12 foot high phragmites on each side she was trapped.  Karina was attacked and brutally beaten about the face. Teeth were knocked out. She was dragged through the weeds where she was sexually assaulted. 

According to the police she put up a fight.   

Her lifeless body was found less than a half mile away from where she had entered the park, along the 2.9 acre long dirt service road that snakes around the 250 acre natural area park managed by the National Park Service in the Howard Beach section of Queens, part of the Gateway National Park system.  

At the time, not a single visible escape route, even to the water, existed between the area where she entered the park and where she was killed.

Can a park be an accessory to murder? There is no doubt that the lack of maintenance in Spring Creek Park contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the senseless killing.   

“We plan to chop down just about every weed at that location until we are satisfied that we got all the evidence,”  a frustrated NYPD chief of detectives Robert Boyce told reporters a few days after the attack.     

“We understand the height of the phragmites is a concern,”  U.S. Park Police Capt. Raymond Closs said at the time referring to the aggressive weed that has taken over much of the park.  

“We are in discussions right now to figure out ways to improve the safety of this park going forward,” he said.    

Bright orange evidence marker cones at the crime scene in August 2016.

Crime Scene 2017.  The area where police investigators worked around the clock for weeks is unrecognizable today.   Invasive plants, vegetation that grow upwards of twelve feet high has completely enveloped the area.   Long gone are the NYPD's diesel powered flood lights used to help investors at the crime scene.  Months later the illumination provided safety lighting to the desolate area.

The NYPD aided by the NPS cut down acres of invasive plants in the crime scene area, in particular, phragmites, which provided cover for the murder and the murderer.    

A month later the National Park Service spend several weeks clearing out the maze-like weeds as part of its annual fire trail maintenance program.    

NPS contractors brought in earth moving machinery, a track and multi terrain loader equipped with steal claws. The vehicle is equipped with a masticator, a large piece of equipment designed to mow and shred brush.    Mastication - mechanical brush mowing - is a temporary and cost effective method of cutting down large expanses of grasses.    

A Bobcat equipped with a masticator is dwarfed by the phragmites as it mows along the park perimeter last September.  Last year NPS wildland fire staff cut down about 30 acres to maintain the 3 mile fire trail in Spring Creek Park which is done once a year.

Although the equipment is brought in to reduce fire danger, area residents say reducing the height and density of the weeds also creates a sense of safety, albeit fleeting.  

Weeks after the murder of Karina Vetrano, the park was virtually unrecognizable.  Dozens of acres of the invasive weeds that helped make this heinous crime possible, had been removed.  

In several areas the thick weeds had been cut back 50 feet along the road where police say Karina met her killer on that tragic day.  In total, 30 acres of invasive species were cut.   The clearing had drastically altered the landscape and provided security improvements by opening up vast viewing corridors in the park.  The public was now able to see Old Mill Creek, part of Jamaica Bay from the interior of the park.    

There were now views and potential escape routes that were not available to Mrs. Vetrano weeks earlier.  

Special efforts need to taken in order to eradicate the weeds, and in particular, phragmites, which posses an extensive root system.  Last August a spokeswoman for Gateway National Recreation area pointed out that simply mowing the weeds wasn’t a viable option.  

 “It grows back very quickly and stronger and becomes more dense after mowing,”   Daphne Yun, acting Public Affairs Officer for Gateway National Recreation Area said.    

In fact, over the course of several weeks, many of the areas mowed after the attack saw these weeds aggressively sprout back up. The area where Ms. Vetrano’s body was found was almost unrecognizable from compared to just a week earlier, as the green stalk-like young phragmites plant had already grown two feet or more. 

Less than two weeks after it had been cleared at the crime scene the highly aggressive Phragmites plant had already grown back more than two feet high.  Today this area is a memorial.

Police Presence 

In the immediate aftermath of the senseless murder the NPS and the NYPD dramatically increased its law enforcement presence.  Federal U.S. Park Police were assigned to the park utilizing overtime. Police utilized all terrain vehicles, cars,  mountain bike, and horses to patrol the park.

U.S. Park Police Capt. Raymond Closs admitted last August that the interior was now being patrolled on a daily basis because of the dense vegetation.  

U.S. Park Police venture into the interior of the park. The vehicle is dwarfed by phragmites which grows upwards of 12 feet high.

At the time just two US Park officers per 12 hour shift were available to patrol the perimeter of the Queens and Brooklyn sections of Gateway National Recreational Jamaica Bay Park area’s more than nine-thousand acres. Two officers for more than nine-thousand acres per shift.  

A couple of hundred feet inside the park weeks after the murder two of the four Federal U.S. Police officers responsible for patrolling nearly ten thousand acres of the federal parkland sat in a patrol car. 

“Budget cuts” an officer explains when asked about the incredibly low number of officers responsible for the amount of land. 

The historically low number of U.S. Park Police assigned to the Jamaica Bay unit took an even bigger hit in the aftermath of 911 when approximately one dozen officers were reassigned to cover the Statue of Liberty Island detail, which included the manning of the Battery Park screening facility.  At the time, the U.S. Park Police detail assigned to the island were also woefully understaffed.  

Community stakeholders involved with the park say there has been improved communication with the NPS and U.S. Park Police since the murder.   

Two additional officers are stationed at Jacob Riis Beach on weekends and an extra patrol for Jamaica Bay has been added throughout the week during the summer.  

  The park's non-native invasive vegetation rises above two mounted NYPD officers patrolling the park's interior in 2016. 

The regular patrols of the park interior ended months ago.  The Federal Park Police detail ended in February after the suspect was caught. 

Exemplary and dogged police work lead to arrest of 20-year-old Chanel Lewis, a Brooklyn resident who police sources say has developmental issues.

The case is pending trial. Lewis’s next court date is September 7, 2017 according to the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.  

An NYPD vehicle required towing assistance after getting in the mud while patrolling the shore line.

A year after the murder, the park perimeter looks much like it did the day she was attacked.  

For the last 40 years Pat Toscano and his wife Jane have lived 50 feet away from where Karina entered the park on that fateful day.     

Mr. Toscano said,  “nothing major” has changed since the murder. The vegetation still grows, and police patrols have largely faded away.   

“The weeds are at full strength like when she entered the park,” Mr. Toscano said over the weekend pointing to the area.  

Several NYPD argus cameras installed weeks after the murder to monitor the park perimeter remain outside their home, across from where Karina was last seen publicly.  

Mrs. Toscano said the height of the weeds were always a concern raising a family, especially with two girls.  

“We have two daughters. I would come home from working late, it was dark you never knew who could be lurking,”  she said.    

He says he is unable to see the Jamaica Bay, even from his second story window.    

August 2016. Isolation and Cover - No Where to Run or Hide.  Police say Karina Vetrano encountered the suspect while jogging along this desolate dirt path in Spring Creek Park where the thick, overgrown dense weeds trapped her.  For years area residents have complained about the park's lack of maintenance including highly aggressive phragmites which grow upwards of twelve feet high.  These concerns have fallen on deaf ears. In August 2016 this lack of urgency had deadly consequences.

August 2017.  The road where she was attacked has reverted back to its normal state, the condition Karina Vetrano would have encountered the evening she was killed. 

A half mile away on 78th Street Donna Sciami says her family has lived directly across from the park since 1962.

“I hate this block, They always forget about us,”  she said describing the lack of maintenance. 

“When my parents bought this house this was supposed to be a park.  That never happened.  The weeds are high and dangerous and you can’t see.  People could hide in the weeds, You can’t see who’s lurking in there.” 

This is expected to change in a few years.

The Future  

A large scale park restoration project has been in the planning stages for several years, a plan the National Park Service says will dramatically alter the landscape and, in turn, provide enhanced security improvements.  

NYS DEC has been awarded $ 69 million dollars from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for the restoration of Spring Creek South, including salt marshes, wetlands, tidal inlets, and upland forest.   

Called The Spring Creek South Storm Resilience and Ecosystem Restoration Project the upcoming work seeks to address several important long-term issues at the site, included added security.  

“The restoration project would remove the phragmites and replace them with native habitat, which would be less dense and offer better lines of sight,” a NPS spokesperson told A Walk In The Park.

"This area has been subject to dredging, infilling and dumping throughout the mid-20th century.  This activity changed the site elevation and the soil which eliminated and degraded the salt marsh community and habitat,” she said.  

In addition U.S. Park Police personel are working with the NY State DEC to incorporate crime prevention through environmental design in the Spring Creek restoration project.

"The idea of crime prevention through environmental design is using design that maximizes safety and security through sight lines and access points,"   Daphne Yun, acting GNRA Public Affairs Officer said in a statement.   

Spring Creek South Project aerial view

The Spring Creek South Storm Resilience and Ecosystem Restoration project area.   Construction on the $ 69 million dollar project is expected to take approximately 18 months. Construction was expected to commence in 2017 but that has been pushed back to 2019.

The DEC project documents on the restoration project touches on the reason(s) for the current condition of the park including the invasives. 

“Prior to Superstorm Sandy, historical actions had profoundly degraded the salt marsh community and habitat at Spring Creek and left the site vulnerable to invasive species.“   

The project is being touted as a way to help reduce the risk of storm damage and flooding in the Howard Beach neighborhood by building a protective berm and restoring over 225 acres of wetland and coastal forest according to the DEC.  

By reshaping the landscape and adding nature-based resilience features, Spring Creek South will complement other storm resilience projects in the area to manage this region’s vulnerability to coastal storms.  

The project will restore native habitat at Spring Creek South to reduce the risk from coastal storms by using green infrastructure and nature-based features to protect neighboring communities. Native plant species  will be reintroduced, Biodiversity will increased.  Salt marsh consisting of Spartina alterniflora will stabilize sediment at the shoreline, while berms and coastal forests will provide flood protection and buffer habitat. These habitats will increase the ecological value of the site in addition to providing resilience benefits.   

The US Army Corps of Engineers is serving as project contractor, and with an architecture and engineering team, is developing the design for the project. The project is designed to complement other flood reduction projects in the Howard Beach and Jamaica Bay areas, and is consistent with the Gateway National Recreation Area General Management Plan.  

The existence of several contaminants were discovered after soil analysis were completed. The site includes metals, pesticides, PAHs and SVOCs, which are typical for a historic landfill.    

One area has also been identified as having high levels of PCBs, which will be removed according to federal guidelines.    

The government's survey of existing vegetation in the park shows the vast amount of plants are invasive. 

Construction should take approximately 2 years and was expected to begin in 2017 but that has been pushed back to 2019.  Planning and design will continue into 2018.  Phase II, the construction portion of the project is anticipated to begin in the summer of 2019 according the NPS.  

In the mean time the community has to make due with the annual fire prevention maintenance work the National Park Service does each year.

Plans to restore the park go as far back to at least the 70’s.  

As part of a comprehensive management plan for all of the Gateway National Recreation Area land in the city, a plan was developed through a multi-year process of outreach, community-based planning, and consultation. More than 75 formal and informal public meetings were conducted with civic groups, governmental agencies and interested citizens. To encourage a wide measure of public participation,  the Federal government had even set up a,” Gateway Hotline,” to answer questions and receive comments.   

Design concepts for Gateway National Recreation Area (N.R.A.), 1979 General Management Plan for Spring Creek called for a “major modification of the existing landscape to allow or encourage restoration of a more diverse natural system. The plan also envisioned active recreation facilities like ball fields, tennis, an overlook of Jamaica Bay and a nature center.  Community gardens, meadows and open space were to be established along the entire eastern boarder of the park.  
The 1978 General Management Plan for Spring Creek encourage restoration of a more diverse natural system while also envisioning active recreation facilities.  The plan was never implemented.   Congress authorized $92 million for the park in 1972 the year Gateway was created, but the money was never appropriated.   For the next 45 years the park has laid fallow, at the mercy of a lack of a funding and the political will to fix it.

The future redevelopment of Spring Creek progressed to development concept plans which according to the Federal government would “move Gateway’s planning one step beyond the general management plan, making it possible to begin final design and construction.”  

Although the plan was, “well received by the public,”  it was never implemented.   

Congress authorized $92 million for the park in 1972 the year Gateway was created, but the money was never appropriated.   For the next 45 years the park has laid fallow, at the mercy of a lack of a funding and the political will to fix it. 

Karina Vetrano, 30 was senselessly murdered while doing what she enjoyed, running in Spring Creek Park.

Remembering Karina 

This evening at 7:00 the Vetrano family will be joined by many family, friends and neighbors who will come together for the first anniversary walk to honor, “Our Angel, Karina.”  

The group will meet at 165th Avenue & 85th Street and walk to St. Helen’s Church where, last August, hundreds of mourners gathered for Karina’s funeral. There,  less than a half mile from where she lost her life, they will have a moment of silence and prayer.  

A walk no family should have to make.

Notice in Sunday's St. Helen's Church bulletin for today's first anniversary walk in memory of Karina Vetrano.

A memorial  to Karina surrounded by sunflowers has been created where police and the victim’s father found her body, facedown amid weeds about 15 feet off a desolate path in the park.  Several slate benches placed in a semi circle.    (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

Read More:

Male 20, Arrested In Murder of Queens Jogger In Spring Creek Park 
A Walk In The Park  - February 6, 2017 - By Geoffrey Croft 

A Walk In The Park - February 4, 2017  - By Geoffrey Croft 

A Walk In The Park - August 5, 2016 - By Geoffrey Croft 

A Walk In The Park - August 3, 2016 - By Geoffrey Croft