By Tom Momberg
Oakland Lake, which has been open again for a few weeks now following drainage of the lake and major reconstruction of the pathways around it, was commemorated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday afternoon—celebrating what elected officials call one of Queens’ “hidden gems.”
“After one year of construction, we are thrilled to open up this beautiful area, so everyone can enjoy (it) this fall. You can see how spectacular this lake looks,” city Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said. “The walk around this lake is equally spectacular.”
The City Council allocated $500,000 for the project and the borough president’s office put up $1.1 million.
The city Department of Parks and Recreation broke ground on the reconstruction project last summer after strong advocacy by Community Board 11 and local civics. They urged former Councilman Mark Weprin and former Borough President Helen Marshall to allocate funds to deal with annual flooding issues.
“We thank Mark Weprin and Helen Marshall for getting these balls rolling, and we appreciate that it takes time in government,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “But we are so honored to have great elected officials who really take care of the level of government they are at.”
Katz praised local officials for the Oakland Lake project, including Weprin’s successor, Councilman-elect Barry Grodenchik, who while working in Katz’ administration as the director of community boards and parks, helped her allocate more than $32 million to rebuild parks in the borough.
Oakland Lake itself is a 15,000-year-old spring-fed glacial kettle pond and is located within Alley Pond Park, which is in part why it had so many flooding problems. There are also several species of fish that make the lake their home, giving residents the ability to fish, catch and release.
The Parks Department and the city Department of Environmental Protection completed a $2.5 million capital improvement project on the lake in 2011, which restored and repaired the park perimeters, lake shoreline, ravines and side slopes. They also planted thousands of new trees, providing respite to several species of migratory birds.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) issued a statement before the ribbon-cutting, saying he was boycotting the ceremony to bring attention to the decade-long delay in construction of the comfort station at Little Bay Park, where the parking lot was finished over the summer.
“While I am pleased that Oakland Lake has received the necessary upgrades to its paths and drainage areas, I cannot in good conscience attend a ribbon cutting to celebrate this opening when Little Bay Park remains without the long promised and necessary facility,” Avella said.
Silver did make note of the department’s problems getting capital projects done on time in the past, but said it was a new era for city parks.
“I also have to recognize staff after projects had been taking far too long. We made some adjustments and now our capital projects are 90 percent on time in construction,” Silver said.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb