Piles of trash in tall grass are just yards away from baseball fields where the pitcher’s mounds have nearly leveled with home plate. Behind home plate, there are cracks in the sidewalks that are overgrown with grass and weeds. Not much further from this scene is a picnic table, worn from years of use.
These are just some of the images of Frank M. Charles Memorial Park in Howard Beach, which officials and residents say has been neglected for years by the National Park Service (NPS).
Assemblymember Philip Goldfeder and Senator Charles Schumer recently sent a letter to NPS with concerns about upkeep of the park that residents claim has been inconsistent and underfunded for years.
“Frank M. Charles Memorial Park, a treasured resource for the residents of Howard Beach, has long been a popular location for youth sports games and family outings. But the park has seen better days,” Schumer said. “The level of deterioration at the park is unacceptable, and that’s why I’m urging the National Park Service to step up to the plate and clean it up so local residents get the park they deserve.”
Goldfeder said he and Schumer decided to urge for better maintenance now as summer heats up and pollution in the park has increased.
“I think it was time we sort of formalize our request that we’re serious about it and we’re not going to stop until we see some improvement,” Goldfeder said.
The assemblymember said NPS typically focuses its spending on West Coast parks and will sometimes forget about eastern areas.
He added that “Howard Beach is a beautiful community and we deserve a beautiful park.”
In the past, Goldfeder said he’s led cleanup efforts throughout the greenspace, but it needs consistent maintenance and not quick fixes.
Dorothy McCluskey, who heads the Friends of Charles Park group, has worked for nearly two decades to ensure the park is clean.
The Parks Service, she said, had not been allocating funds to, or regularly caring for, what she calls “the jewel of Jamaica Bay.” She cited poorly repaired tennis courts and baseball fields as some of the problems reported to the NPS.
John Warren, an NPS spokesperson for the area, said the agency was working the city to improve all parks near Jamaica Bay. Warren said plans with the city were “still in the early stages, but it’s going to help us pool our resources together…to provide better services to people at all of our parks in the Jamaica Bay area.”
Garbage, he said, is a problem endemic to all greenspaces, and NPS is continuing to clean the park.
“Trash is an issue at any park,” he said, “and it’s something we’re working on further improving.”