COMMUNITY SERVICE: Walter Mugdan is the president of both the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee (UCPC), an environmental conservation group, and the Westmorland Association, a small homeowners’ association in the Westmorland section of Little Neck. A Westmorland resident, Mugdan enjoys working for the organizations because they are both in the area where he grew up, and he cares deeply about the environmental well-being of his community. Because he lives in the area, Mugdan says that it was “only natural” for him to become a member of the UCPC, and has been working with them since the 1970s.
JOB: Mugdan works for the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
BACKGROUND: Mugdan was born in Flushing, and has spent his whole life in Queens. He recalls growing up by Udalls Cove Park, where he used to play all the time as a young boy. It was after he was diagnosed with asthma as a child that he noticed his aggravation at air pollution.
“When I reached junior high school, I became interested in what was then a brand-new area of interest, which was environmental issues,” he said. “My parents always took me hiking and I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, and I was in college around the time that the environmental movement was beginning. Environmental protection has always been an area of interest for me.”
FAVORITE MEMORY: “My favorite memories would have to be playing in the slivers of wilderness and undeveloped land on both sides of Douglaston, where I grew up,” Mugdan said. “I was very attached to those woods. It was a great place for a suburban kid to have a bit of area to play in growing up.”
BIGGEST CHALLENEGE: When Mugdan became president of the UCPC in 2002, he was immediately presented with a difficult issue. The city had plans to turn a section of woods into a park, but although they had committed to the idea, they hadn’t acquired all of the properties to make up that area. Because of financial constraints, the city was having a difficult time buying the property from property owners. At the time Mugdan became president, eight of the approximate 45 necessary acres still had not been purchased, and the owners of four of those acres filed an application to build several homes on that property. This posed a serious problem, because these houses would have been placed directly in the middle of the proposed park, and all of the money the city had put into buying the properties would have been lost, and the previous four years wasted.
“It was scary to me that the park would be ruined on my watch,” said Mugdan. “I had to meet with state senators, assemblymembers, and other officials to explain to them why this park was so critical. I was very gratified when Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the decision to purchase the remaining properties.”
INSPIRATION: “I really enjoy the outdoors,” Mugdan said. “I love the idea that in a huge metropolis like New York there are not only parks that you can have recreation in, but also parks where you can have a little slice of the natural world that’s still embedded here. So my inspiration is to maintain and improve that.”