By Anna Gustafson
After Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden heaved dirt onto the base of a cherry tree Saturday morning, he put his shovel down, took a look around at the 20 or so people doing the same thing as him and smiled.
Civic members and city officials planted 14 trees in the park last weekend, and for Holden Juniper Valley Park he loves was beginning to more closely resemble the place it was before vandals destroyed a dozen trees earlier this fall.
“This is symbolic of the vandals not winning,” Holden said.
Twelve newly planted cherry trees were cut down with a power saw sometime between 11:30 p.m. Sept. 13 to 4 a.m. Sept. 14, according to city Parks Department officials.
Those responsible for the act have not been caught, but civic members and elected officials, including City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), are offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandals.
Civic members said the destruction had devastated many area residents and parkgoers.
“That act was very, very sad,” said Lorraine Sciulli, first vice president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “A dead tree is a sad sight.”
Civic association secretary Bob Doocey agreed with Holden, saying Saturday’s replanting was representative of a tight-knit group of area residents who would always rally around the park.
“It was despicable,” Doocey said of the vandalism. “You can’t let the vandals come by here and boast of the damage they did. You have to erase the damage. This is our park, not theirs.”
Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said while parks throughout the city will fall prey to vandalism, she has never before seen such a large number of trees destroyed in one place.
“When the original damage occurred, it was a beautiful, sunny day, so many people were out walking and were so surprised when they saw the trees,” Lewandowski said. “Everybody was saying, ‘Did you see what happened in the park?’ We all said we need to (A) find who did this and (B) get the trees back here.”
Lewandowski urged residents to call the Parks Department or city officials to report any vandalism in the parks.
Christine Patti, a member of the Juniper Juniors and a high school student at the Mary Louis Academy, said she was happy to spend much of her Saturday planting the trees.
“I wanted to help the community,” Patti said. “I used to play soccer here. It’s my neighborhood park and I wanted to do anything I could to help out.”
Juniper Valley Park has been the 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 Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.