By Michael Morton
“This further demonstrates our commitment to improving the quality of life in all five boroughs,” Bloomberg told a news conference, saying that creating more parkland “is fundamental to making our city more livable.”
Bloomberg spoke in front of one of the three reservoir basins, its sloping sides encasing a rainwater pond filled with willowy reeds. Previously the property of the city Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the water system, the reservoir will be given to the Department of Parks and Recreation for development as a public site.
Marking a rare chance to add parkland, the handover is the largest such acquisition in Queens, where most of the property lies, since 1981.
“We can truly say this is Christmas in July,” Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said. “We look forward to developing this.”
With budgets tight, Bloomberg mentioned the private sector as a possible source of funding for the project. Ideas for the space include ballfields and biking and jogging paths, but planning is only in its infancy, Benepe said.
“This will take a number of years to develop a master plan and secure the necessary funding,” he said.
In additional to recreation, some of the wetlands and woods in the basins are likely to be preserved, a nod to their natural evolution into an informal nature sanctuary over the years. Construction of the reservoir began in 1856 in a cornfield, and eventually it served Brooklyn and later Queens for more than a century.
Although not used regularly after 1959, one of the basins received water each summer to supplement the pressure lost by children opening up fire hydrants. But eventually new water mains were built, and when the seasonal task proved no longer necessary, the reservoir was decommissioned in 1990.
Sometime after regular service stopped in 1959 – no one can pinpoint exactly when – the reservoir's keepers allowed nature to take its course, and several species of trees took root around the edges of the reservoir and on the bottom of the two dry basins. Rainwater collected in the middle basin, creating a shimmering marshland. And someone – again no one remembers who – erected a 7-foot-tall green fence to keep out trespassers. That fence now strains to keep the vines and bushes from escaping their captivity.
Parks employees removed a section of the green barrier for the mayor's announcement, and a surreptitious foray revealed a path between each basin, lined with a wrought iron fence to mark the cobblestone walls that fall 40 feet down into the depressions.
From inside, the city disappears, but outside views of Brooklyn, Queens and Jamaica Bay poke through the trees, with row upon row of soldiers' white gravestones in National Cemetery spilling down the hillsides.
During his announcement, Bloomberg called the site a “recreational treasure.” Shortly after he finished speaking, workers put the fence back up, for now sealing the basins of that jewel once more.
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.