Meet a New Yorker for Parks

Beverly McDermott

December 1, 2011

As a child in the 1940s and 50s in eastern Flushing, Beverly McDermott was surrounded by trees: Trees planted on nearly every residential block by renowned landscape architect Samuel Parsons. A pine grove just blocks away in Kissena Park that memorialized the deceased soldiers of World War I. And in her backyard, the venerable willow with hanging branches that transformed the yard into a magical world for area children and families to gather. When the tree grew ill, an inspector delivered the news: it would have to be cut down.
“It was like a death in the family, a nail though the heart,” said the 68-year-old McDermott. “It was then that I realized every tree has a legacy and that I should be doing my utmost to save them.”

That moment helped inspire a decades-long career – passion project, really – to preserve and protect the 101-acre Kissena Park. Every day, she visits the park, inspecting the trees, the shrubbery, the grass, the pond.

When she began to see abuse of the park, and what she thought was a lack of Parks Department upkeep, beginning in the 1970s, she helped organize cleanups, plantings, school tours and gardening sessions, and petitioned the City to do more. She even obtained a pruning license, which enables her to care for the trees herself.

Today, she runs the Kissena Park Civic Association, which keeps an eye not only on the park’s upkeep, but the neighborhood’s, too.

“Beverly has been the watchdog of Kissena Park and surrounding green spaces,” said Fred Kress, President of the Queens Coalition for Parks and Greenspaces. “She has the vigor and determination that will ensure green spaces in her area will have a loud and convincing voice to stand up for them – regardless of who wants to harm them.”

Lately, she has become an advocate against poaching of the park’s wildlife – including turtles, ducks, fish and rabbits – often taken for the purpose of eating, she says. In August, she joined two local State Assembly Members, Grace Meng and Rory I. Lancman, to call the City’s attention to the problem.

But through the challenges and frustrations, her joy for the park remains strong. There’s nothing she enjoys more than her daily walk through the place that has been such an essential part of her life for so long.

“There’s always been an effort to have a park mentality in New York,” she said. “We’ve got so many people living so close together and we all need to get our heads in a greenspace once in a while. I’m just trying to make this better for the next generation.”