Rye Town Park Needs a Conservancy
By Jamie Jensen
While consultants, elected officials, and park staff focus on the deteriorating landmarked buildings, ADA compliance, and rebuilding of the seawall damaged during Sandy, the grounds at Rye Town Park are badly neglected and local residents are complaining.
Fall is the season Rye parkgoers look forward to most. The meadow along Forest Avenue is no longer filled with cars and the frenetic pace of the beach season with its accompanying noise, street traffic, and garbage are gone. After decades, they have come to expect that the park will pay for itself. The Commission’s elected leaders agree. In a perfect world, the revenue generated from beach and parking permits, day passes, pavilion rentals, and the contract with the current concession operator, Barley Beach House, would cover the care and feeding of the park for the remaining nine months. That doesn’t seem so clear anymore.
“The Great Lawn”, mostly crabgrass, has died and what’s left is mud and brush. Aeration and seeding at the end of October seemed haphazard, despite what was stated in the April 2018 Town Park management report that read as follows, “For 2018 we are planning to use the park’s existing maintenance services to improve the aeration on the overflow parking areas and do heavy reseeding as well.”
In the operating budget, $106,000 was set aside for building and ground maintenance with $30,000 specifically for lawn maintenance. Observing the lawn seeding process, former Rye City Council and RTP Commission member Mack Cunningham, who lives across the street from the park, made clear that funds were not well spent. According to Cunningham, “The crab grass roots were not eradicated by the aerator and will come back next July. The Park’s top soil lacks nutrients, so the grass seed will not grow. Rye Town needs to hire an agronomist to develop a multi-year turf improvement program and bid package plan for lawn contractors for execution in September (not late October) after grass parking ceases.”
Additionally, perennials and shrubs around the Duck Pond are being choked by phragmite and the temporary snow fence installed years ago is widely thought to be ugly.
Maintaining a mix of perennials that slope down to the water on the north and west side of the pond was a central element to the design of the pond expansion in 1998. In 2017, The Friends of Rye Town Park (FRTP) spent $12,500 to weed five flower beds and the pond border. The Commission, which manages the park, does not have a contract for care of the plant life around the pond.
The Friends, a local nonprofit founded in 1992, completed the full restoration of the Pond in 2007. Under the leadership of local landscape architect Chris Cohan, they raised $500,000 in capital through private giving and government grants and were lauded for years after transforming the park. At the time, the pruning, fertilizing, weeding, and cultivation of the landscape was shouldered completely by Friends. That is no longer the case. Today, there are two study committees made up of local residents, many whom were not around when FRTP was in its heyday. One group is examining a new parking plan that could reduce parking on the grass. The second group is debating the future of a snow fence around the pond. The recommendations of the first group will include capital investments for repaving the lot and parking automation. The second group is stuck finding a politically palatable solution for a situation that would be much less problematic if the original design of the pond perimeter had been maintained with existing budgets.
Creating a conservancy for the park, a central recommendation of the Capstone report published in 2016, is discussed wistfully among the Commissioners and a growing group of residents. In 2017, Helen Gates suggested we begin a 90 for 90 campaign, where ninety residents would give $1,000 for the park’s 90th anniversary. Other ideas germinating among the FRTP board members include more traditional fundraising events and GoFundMe pages. However, according to resident Katie Kubursi, “The conversation is still in its infancy. There is so much more to a Conservancy than good fundraising ideas.”
So, what would a Conservancy require? Vision and a strategic plan for implementing that vision, local leadership that is independent of the Commission, and the generosity of local residents. Currently, the $1 million park budget primarily supports the running of Oakland Beach during the summer.
Would a conservancy focus just on building restoration or would it include the preservation and rehabilitation of the grounds?
The regular rotation of elected and appointed officials governing the park could make the task of building a conservancy politically challenging. Gary Zuckerman, the Town Supervisor, has a little over a year left in his tenure. Paul Rosenberg, the Mayor of Rye Brook, will be leaving Commission in the spring. Rye City Commissioners Deputy Mayor Emily Hurd and Mayor Josh Cohn are about to finish their first year on the Commission, along with Mayor Fritz Falanka of Port Chester.
Residents interested in learning about the park can sign on the Rye Town Park Alliance Facebook page and come to a Commission meeting, held the third Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m.
Can we make Rye Town Park’s “Great Lawn” great again?
Perennials are struggling to survive alongside phragmites around the Duck Pond.