By Jeremy Walsh
City Parks Department officials and community leaders around Middle Village were searching for vandals who destroyed 12 newly planted trees in Juniper Valley Park over the weekend.
It was the fourth time that trees have been damaged in the park this year, and the Juniper Park Civic Association, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and former Councilman Tom Ognibene were offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandals. The groups were working on increasing the reward offer Tuesday.
“Arborcide is a senseless crime. I am very disappointed that someone would be so destructive to our community,” said Crowley. “I want to let these tree killers know that their acts of vandalism will not be taken lightly in this community.”
It is believed the trees were cut with an electric saw either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, the Parks Department said. The 10 cherry trees and two oaks were planted in the park this past spring.
Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said the Parks Department was grateful for the local support.
“Juniper Valley Park is a gem for Middle Village and we will continue to work with NYPD to track down the person or persons responsible for vandalizing the park,” she said in a statement.
Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park civic, called the incident “a serious attack on our quality of life” and said the civic would ask the 104th Precinct to start strictly enforcing the park’s 9 p.m. curfew.
“It’s not like somebody with a handsaw could do this,” he said. “This was very clean. It’s premeditated. Somebody came in here to do this, which is very disturbing.”
Holden was not sure who was responsible for the incident, discounting rumors that it was a particular disgruntled park user.
“Somebody did write us a letter a few months ago and said that some of the trees were cutting in to the sports area and the kids needed more room,” he said. “That person, I highly doubt, would do such a thing.”
Juniper Valley Park has been victim of arborcide and vandalism four times this year, with more than 20 trees victimized. In April, low branches were torn off a number of trees overnight. In June, two trees were found damaged in the park and in July, seven trees were damaged, leaving four uprooted, two completely destroyed and one with trunk damage.
It is illegal for citizens to remove, kill or damage a street or park tree, whether intentionally or accidentally. The maximum penalty for arborcide is $15,000 and one year in prison.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.