The Ridgewood Reservoir was last used as a water supply by the city in 1965, when the area was suffering through a drought. Fifty-five acres of land owned by the city have sat idle in the middle of Highland Park on the Brooklyn-Queens border since that time. The city drained two of its three basins completely, and left about 4 feet of water in its middle basin. The two basins that were drained underwent a natural phenomenon called reforestation, whereby the forest that had been present at the site in the 1800s before the reservoir was dug grew back. Those trees are now many feet tall and host more than 120 species of birds, numerous plants and other wildlife. From the trail between basins two and three, one can usually spot ducks, songbirds, dragonflies and lizards (yes, lizards!).
In 2004, the Department of Environmental Protection turned the Ridgewood Reservoir over to the Department of Parks and Recreation. The parks department talked about their vision of the park in terms of its natural features. Community Board 5 made the restoration of the site a budget priority year after year while urging the city to keep it as natural a setting as possible. Attendees at listening sessions hosted by the Parks Department earlier this year voiced the same sentiment almost unanimously.
However, the Parks Department suddenly seems to have a completely different plan for the Ridgewood Reservoir. There is talk of clear-cutting the established trees in basin three and lining the bottom of it with artificial turf and concrete for "active recreation". There is talk of making this a "destination park" which will attract people from outside the immediate neighborhoods of Ridgewood and Cypress Hills. The reason given for needing to do this is because there is an obesity problem in the city and therefore a need to encourage people to play sports such as baseball, soccer, etc.
We have a newsflash for Adrian Benepe: You are the Parks Commissioner, not the Health Commissioner! You are charged with creating and maintaining parks ‒ not worrying about people's weight or their exercise habits. The current amenities at Highland Park are in embarrassingly decrepit condition, revealing that the department cannot maintain the fields it already has ‒ why should we, the taxpayers, allow you to use our tax money to create new ones that you won't take care of?
The bragging of Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg that they are going to plant a million new trees ‒ many of which will be along sidewalks, and will be funded 100% by homeowners ‒ while participating in the destruction of a 22-acre decades-old forest is possibly the worst example of hypocrisy to come out of this administration in all of its six years. It seems our leaders are suffering from the Robert Moses syndrome ‒ if they didn't plant it themselves or pour concrete all over it then it serves no useful purpose in their eyes.
The "destination park" that the city so desperately seeks is already there. Nature enthusiasts from all over the city have descended on the Ridgewood Reservoir to observe and enjoy what's there now. Bicyclists and joggers circle the basins regularly. Naturalists and exercisers co-exist peacefully, in the same space.
The city should enhance the natural beauty of the Ridgewood Reservoir instead of being so hell bent on destroying it. This could have been done back in 1965, but wasn't. We've waited more than 40 years for the reservoir to be opened back up and restored. Don't return it to us covered in asphalt and artificial turf. It will be a decision we will all regret.