Nature-Deprived Scofflaws Ignore Closures for a Walk In the Park

prospectparkhurricane Nature Deprived Scofflaws Ignore Closures for a Walk In the Park

Tree damage in Prospect Park. (Prospect Park Alliance)

On Sunday, it was fun to settle in at home with popcorn and movies. On Monday, the hurricane hit, a frightening and fraught time. On Tuesday, the city took stock of the devastation. On Wednesday, well, Wednesday was the beginning of many frustrations: frustrations with ongoing power outages, frustrations with being cooped up for yet another day, frustrations with working from home, school cancellations extending through the end of the week, and the difficulty of borough-to-borough travel.

In the midst of these frustrations, the many islands of green scattered across the five boroughs started to seem very, very tempting. A tantalizing emerald escape from stuffy apartments, boredom and the tedium of days stretching ahead. The only problem is that New York City parks are closed, for fear of falling branches and dangerous debris, until at least Saturday morning. Not that the barricades and ominous signs posted at the entrances were enough to stop the many outlaw walkers, runners, bicyclists and parents desperate for a breath of fresh air. On Wednesday morning, The Observer wandered into Fort Greene park, scooting past a whirring wood chipper at the entrance to find dog walkers, parents pushing strollers, precocious tots climbing on freshly cut logs and runners hungrily sucking in the suddenly cool autumn air. Workers were working to dismantle a huge tree splintered in three sections at the base of the hill, a dead bird was crushed into the muddy path around the perimeter of the park, and one mother was pointing out the felled tree to her son, but most of the frolicking Brooklynites seemed oblivious. In fact, it was busier than a Saturday in early September.

On Thursday afternoon, Prospect Park was decidedly quieter, with a parks employee stationed at the Grand Army Plaza entrance turning away cyclists and runners. But almost as many were streaming out of the park behind her. And at Prospect Park West and Third Street, streams of people scurried past a barricade that had been unceremoniously swept to one side. Just beyond the stone fence, a group of flannel-clad hipsters picnicked on a blanket beneath the swaying tree branches.

Many runners were dutifully sprinting around the perimeter of the park, but beyond the fallen trees and stumps, The Observer could see bicyclists whirring around the loop and dog walkers distractedly gazing into the distance as their pets sniffed the freshly disturbed foliage. On the western side, a runner who had circled half the park on the exterior sidewalk spotted a discreet opening in the stone wall and after looking around furtively, disappeared into the brush.

A Parks Department spokesperson admitted that some scofflaws have been ignoring the barricades and signs, but noted that parks employees and barricades are blocking a number of parks entrances. The Central Park Conservancy, which is rushing to clear the park before Sunday’s marathon, estimates that some 250 mature trees are uprooted or compromised and on its website begs everyone “to help the Conservancy by staying out of the Park until further notice.” The Parks Department has also scheduled volunteer work days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But in a city where so much more pressing work remains to be done, with resources allocated to cleanup rather than policing, the policy at most parks is, by default, enter at your own risk. And it’s a risk that many New Yorkers, especially those burning with cabin fever, are apparently willing to take.

kvelsey@observer.com