LIC Bulb Festival draws many young families to beautify waterfront park

By Bill Parry

Before he died in February, Friends of Gantry founder and longtime president Bill Bylewski would often lament that membership in his group was waning and those who remained were getting too old care for the greenspaces in the 12-acre Gantry Plaza State Park.

When the city opened Hunters Point South Park just south of Gantry in 2013, Bylewski merged his group into a wider Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, which would look after all of Long Island City’s waterfront, greenspaces and parks.

“It will bring an influx of new and youthful energy to our efforts,” Bylewski said in May 2014. “It’s like a breath of fresh air. We’re going to make sure that all the energy is spread out across our waterfront in both parks.”

The guardian of the Gantry died at the age of 53, just six months after he was diagnosed with cancer.

How he would have enjoyed watching the LIC Bulb Festival last Saturday. More than 60 young adults, many with small children, spent much of their day in the dirt planting over 3,000 daffodil and tulip bulbs in Hunters Points South Park and another 700 bulbs in Gantry.

“It says that our community is growing for the better,” current Hunters Point Park Conservancy President Rob Basch said. “Five years ago if we had 18 people turn out for an event like this ,we would consider it to be a crowd. This community is now fully engaged and that’s what makes LIC such a great place to live with volunteers coming out and supporting this community.”

Basch, an associate director of marketing and advertising at Publishers Clearing House, had the idea for the LIC Bulb Festival when he was reading through some horticulture items at work,

“I contacted one of the vendors, Van Zyverden in Mississippi, and they said yes, they supply non-profits with their surplus bulbs,” Basch said. “All we had to do was pay for the freight. “

Come spring, the park will be filled with orange, purple and yellow daffodils and tulips. Basch was excited to see so many youngsters taking part.

“This will be like a big science project for the kids,” he said. “They’ll be back here in March to see if their flowers are poking through the snow.”

Basch’s wife, Barbara Edsell, who serves as the Conservancy’s board secretary, said they will build on the youngsters’ involvement.

“Next year we want to do more gardening events with the children,” she said.

Basch has his own plans for next year’s LIC Bulb Festival.

“Next year we want to plant 10,000 more bulbs,” he said.

Bylewski’s beloved parks have youthful energy now.

Mark Christie, the Conservancy’s vice president, was an original member of the Friends of Gantry in 1998. Back in those days he helped Bylewski chase gangs of drinking teens and drug addicts from the park.

“Saturday surely would have been Bill’s dream come true,” Christie said. “At first there were only a couple of people and I was really disappointed. But suddenly there were waves of young families joining us with all of these children and they’re all asking to be a part of future projects. Yes, Bill would have been surprised at the turnout. He would have been giddy.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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