Meet a New Yorker for Parks

Dorothea Poggi

July 21, 2012

Though Ferry Point Park West is located in the shadow of the heavily trafficked Bronx-Whitestone Bridge in the eastern Bronx, the waterfront park, rich with breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, is extremely hard to reach for most residents of New York City.

It’s too far to walk from the 6 train, and a recent attempt to reach the park by bus resulted in a trip over the bridge into Queens. There’s no actual designated stop along the route for the park, the driver told us – you have to specifically ask to be taken there.

If we felt the park had been forgotten before we arrived, this perception was confirmed after Dorothea Poggi, Founder and President of the Friends of Ferry Point Park, gave us a tour. The grounds were littered with trash, the fields far from lush. An historic Robert Moses-era walkway and 9/11 Memorial Grove of trees are overgrown with weeds. And while the Parks Department expects to put a state-of-the-art comfort station project out to bid later this summer, for now there is no running water in the park at all. Four portable bathrooms provide some relief near the park’s entrance, but Poggi says they are filthy and that large weekend crowds often use a nearby motel – or the park grounds – to relieve themselves.

While the Parks Department is aware of the problems plaguing Ferry Point West, the small community that has loved the park for decades remains concerned.

Poggi grew up in the tiny, three-block Ferry Point neighborhood just north of the park. She and her friends swam in the Westchester Creek and played on its banks. Like much of the southeastern Bronx waterfront, that space gradually became industrialized, and Poggi began visiting the vast Ferry Point Park as a teenager.

“I’d just go sit there and enjoy the peacefulness and views, and draw. And we loved using the park for big events – family reunions, church outings. It was a special place for the community.”

Poggi’s mother Catherine was an early advocate for the park, chairing Community Board 10’s Parks & Recreation Committee. But like many New York City parks in the 1970s and 80s, the space fell into disrepair. When Poggi drove past the park in the 1990s and saw a line of men using the parking lot as a bathroom, she had had enough.

“We had lost the space,” she said. “I realized that unless I did something, the community wouldn’t use the park.”   
She founded the Ferry Point Park West Coalition in 2001 and quickly became known as an open space champion in the area after gathering hundreds of signatures to push plans for a public, but not free, golf course to the eastern side of the park, on the other side of the bridge. In effect, that advocacy helped preserve Ferry Point Park West as a public park.  She made such an impact that Community Board 10 asked her to submit a master plan to the park, which eventually helped influence Parks Department planting schemes for the park.

Her group connected with Partnerships for Parks, a joint program of City Parks Foundation and the Parks Department, at Bronx Parks Speak Up, an annual event, in 2004, and began hosting It’s My Park Day events and cleanups that year, and have every year since. She signed up a record 800 volunteers in 2007 and continues to attract 200 volunteers to four cleanups a year. Because of the park’s location, finding volunteers has been tough, and her success is testament to her outreach and advocacy abilities. Most helpers come from schools and veterans groups from nearby neighborhoods, like Throgs Neck and Edgewater Park. MillionTreesNYC workers also often lend a hand.

“Even with our cleanups, there’s just trash everywhere,” Poggi said. In particular, she noted litter from weekend soccer league games, along with goat heads and assorted offerings from Hindu ceremonies which often wash up on the shore. She also expressed concerns about security, especially on crowded weekend days when drinking is prevalent.

In response to a question about maintenance, bathroom and security issues at the park, a Parks Department spokesman responded by email: “The Parks Department cleans Ferry Point Park daily. In addition, we have met with park user groups to encourage responsible park use, our Parks Enforcement officers regularly visit this park as part of their patrol routes, and we have worked with the NYPD to improve security in this park.”

The founding of Poggi’s group coincided with the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A hillside waterfront view from the park’s southwest corner had offered a perfect view of the twin towers, and soon after the tragedy the Prince of Monaco donated one tree for each person killed in the attacks. Some of those trees were planted around the hillside vista to mark the gaping hole in the skyline. Today the Memorial Grove offers a solemn tribute and creates one of the most hauntingly serene spots in the city.

Though Poggi has been troubled by weekend behavior among the throngs of park-goers, a recent episode gave her hope: after a long afternoon of soccer matches, she spotted a man from one of the leagues cleaning up trash all along the fields.
“I recently almost threw in the towel,” she said. “But lately people have really started to notice our issues.  The soccer league playing a part in taking care of things gave me hope. I guess that’s what will keep me going.”

Dorothea Poggi: Ferry Point Park West, Bronx
Phyllis Yampolsky: McCarren Park Pool, Brooklyn
Debra Meyers: Claremont Park & Mount Eden Malls, Bronx
Phil Hawkins: Brower Park, Brooklyn
In Memoriam: Greg Jackson: Brownsville Recreation Center, Brooklyn
Kamillah Hanks: Tappen Park, Staten Island
Pat Courtney: Isham Park, Manhattan
Rocco Bescia: Kaiser Park, Brooklyn
Lorita Watson: Williamsbridge Oval
Christine Murray: McCarren Park Dog Run
Kathleen Vorwick: Pouch Camp & Staten Island Greenbelt, Staten Island
Len Maniace: Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Queens
Martha Lopez-Gilpin: Astoria Park, Queens
Lucy Aponte: Soundview Park, Bronx
Lynn Rogers: Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries, Staten Island
Beverly McDermott: Kissena Park, Queens
In Memoriam: Evelyn Lauder: Citywide