This afternoon, Friends’ Executive Director, Christina Taylor gave the following testimony to the NYC City Council Parks Committee on the Preliminary FY 16 Budget.
“Good afternoon. Thank you for allowing me to testify. My name is Christina Taylor and I am the Executive Director of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. First of all, I want to thank our Councilman Andrew Cohen for his help in securing funding for the Van Cortlandt Park Forest Restoration Crew for the upcoming year. We are hopeful that with your continued support this crew will continue for many years to come.
The Friends is an independent community based organization which actively promotes the conservation and improvement of Van Cortlandt Park through environmental education and restoration and enhancement of the Park. We were founded in 1992 in response to a New York Times article describing the impact of declining budgets for parks like Van Cortlandt that lacked wealthy benefactors. It is unfortunate, that over 20 years later, the Parks Department is still not adequately funded.
With the largest NYC park, Pelham Bay and the 3rd largest park, Van Cortlandt, the Bronx has more parkland than any other borough. But we often wonder if we are getting our fair share of the budget to maintain these parks and keep them at the level that Bronxites deserve. While we are thankful that there was an increase in last year’s budget of the Parks Department we still believe much more is needed. The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park would happily join you to urge Mayor de Blasio to increase funding for NYC Parks, especially those in the Bronx. The City also needs to become more creative in raising revenue for parks and the Friends have begun a comprehensive process to do just that. Now that NYC Parks has approved a comprehensive Master Plan for the first time in the park’s history, the opportunity to solve the inequitable funding situation in Bronx parks has never been greater.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the Friends would like to request funding for the following:
1.) A Pedestrian Bridge over the Major Deegan to connect Van Cortlandt Park’s eastern and western halves and connect the broken Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. In 1999, the City Council determined that the Department of Environmental Protection should build a Pedestrian Bridge if it was “feasible”. A feasibility study found it is feasible but the DEP still has refused to pay for it. With the Pedestrian Bridge now part of Van Cortlandt Park’s newly approved Master Plan, the time for action is now! We are once again asking the Mayor, the NYC Council and the Borough President to please press the DEP to keep its promise to fund this bridge.
2.) The Friends recently hired consultants to create a Trails Plan for the Park. This plan has been incorporated into the Park’s Master Plan. The implementation of our plan will allow the 20 plus miles of hiking trails in the Park to become a hiking destination in New York City. We ask for city budget appropriations to finish the remaining work in the Trail Plan.
3.) Maintenance funding! We strongly believe that NYC Parks is not funded at a level needed for the agency to properly maintain and care for all of its parks. Each year, we see funding allocated for Capital Projects which vastly improve our parks through the building of new playgrounds, repairing of sports fields, installing bathrooms, etc.. But we don’t see an increase in maintenance funding to keep the new facilities in good shape. Instead, after a few years, they fall into disrepair and need new capital funding to restore them. This can be avoided with ongoing maintenance. The budget should allocate more money to dedicated maintenance staff, PEP officers and other staff for the parks.
The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park fully support the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and its efforts to maintain and improve all parks in NYC. It is important to the future of our borough that we fund our Parks.”