Meet a New Yorker for Parks

Kathleen Vorwick

February 24, 2012

Until last summer, it appeared one of the unlikeliest victims of the 2009 recession would be William H. Pouch Boy Scout Camp, a 60-year-old, 140-acre property in the heart of the Staten Island Greenbelt.

The owner and operator of the Camp, Greater New York Councils, Boy Scouts of America, was in financial trouble. Selling the land, which with its trails, lake and rustic cabins feels more Adirondacks than Big Apple, to developers seemed like an necessary revenue generator.

But local community groups began a push to save the Camp. At the center of that push – as she had been on numerous other open space issues over the past 30 years – was Kathleen Vorwick, a lifelong New Dorp resident whose passion for keeping a piece of Staten Island quiet and pristine has driven her activism as a community leader and past president of the Staten Island Greenbelt Conservancy. That group helps protect and maintain the 2,800-acre space, the largest segment of continuous parkland in New York City.

“We knew that if Pouch was lost then the whole center core of the Greenbelt would be decimated,” Vorwick said. She recalled that then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower hosted a fundraising breakfast at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the late 1940s, which led to the Scouts’ purchase of the property.

“To some, the Camp may not sound like much, but if we don’t protect it now, a unique and historic part of New York City will be lost.”

Following the news that Pouch might be sold, Vorwick and fellow park activist Alex Zablocki founded the Committee to Save Pouch Camp. More than 15 local civic groups joined the Committee, and their lobbying helped catalyze a July 2011 agreement between the Scouts and the Trust for Public Land, which put forth a three-phase preservation plan governed by a perpetual conservation easement, which would allow the Scouts to continue to operate the land in exchange for giving up the right to develop the property. Each phase would cost $5 million, and the money would need to be raised.

Earlier this month, a critical first step was taken, as a $1 million allocation was announced for phase 1, made possible by Borough President James Molinaro and City Council Members James Oddo and Vincent Ignizio.

“That was an important first step,” said Kent Whitehead, Senior Project Manager at the Trust for Public Land. “We have full expectation that we’ll complete every aspect of the project. We’re playing to win.”

The focus now is on fundraising, both through public and private money, for the completion of phase 1. While the Trust has policy expertise, Whitehead says the critical component of a preservation effort is having a local partner.

“Elected officials know Kathy, respect her and listen to her,” he said. “She’s really fulfilling a vital need to show the importance of the project for the community. She provides a lot of the legwork to help get the job done.”

Vorwick knows there are challenges ahead, but agrees with Whitehead that the momentum and will to complete the project is there. For her, the Greenbelt is a treasure, symbolic of what makes Staten Island special.

“The Camp and the whole Greenbelt is a rarity in New York City,” she said. “It’s not like Central Park or Prospect Park – don’t get me wrong; those are great places. But here, you can find total silence.”

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