By Naeisha Rose
If you were to hand out awards for the best green spaces in Queens, Astoria Park would be among the top entries on the list. Amid its nearly 60 acres of land is an Olympic-size outdoor pool with a sweeping view of the East River, and that’s just scratching the surface.
Situated between the Triborough Bridge and Hell’s Gate Bridge, the esplanade is a source of strong communal ties, which means maintaining it is the responsibility of all Astorians.
To preserve the park’s beauty and protect its waters, the Astoria Park Alliance was founded in a church basement in 2007 by seven residents who felt the need to be proactive in the park’s conservation. They have committed thousands of hours of their free time towards its upkeep.
“How can the park be safer? How can it be more usable for everybody? How can we help people take value in our park and take pride in it,” said Martha Lopez-Gilpin, an alliance co-chair. “We are directly on the ground with park users…and talk with them about what they think needs to happen. We’ve gotten people to donate trash cans. We are in constant communication with the park supervisor and the commissioner. If there is vandalism, we try to see what we can do about that,” she said.
Through its partnership with New York Cares and Green Shores NYC, the alliance now has 15 to 20 people who help to recruit temporary volunteers from other boroughs every month for shoreline and park cleanups. Twice a month they advocate for the park by creating community-oriented programs to both inform parkgoers on how to sustain an environmentally friendly park and produce a fun space where Astorians can get to learn more about each other.
One of those events was the Astoria Summer Social, which took place June 26 at Astoria Craft Bar & Kitchen, a restaurant that opened 10 months ago.
“Miriam had gotten in touch with me about a month and a half ago and asked if I would be interested in having a fund-raising event for them,” said Todd Dufresne, the owner of Astoria Craft. “They asked me and I said absolutely. They do a great job in cleaning the park up and they need help. At the end of the day we are a very neighborhood bar restaurant and we want to bring the neighborhood together and help out as much as we can.”
Even though she works for the city park system in Manhattan, Miriam Fedara knew she had to participate in upholding the character of her hometown’s park and became a board member of the alliance.
“I live in Astoria, and I wanted to be a part of the city park in my neighborhood. I love that this is a place where people can honestly do whatever they want in this space. It’s not overly controlled,” she said. “It’s a public space. It’s inviting. It’s clean. It’s one of the largest parks and has one of the most beautiful spots for the shoreline. Not a lot of parks have that open door policy, and that’s my favorite thing about this park.”
For Jody Popper, a volunteer at the alliance, Astoria Park is in her blood.
“I have three kids and a grandchild. We all use the park in different ways. We use the track almost everyday, and the workout equipment that’s around the track. My grandson loves the skate park. We go to the pool in the summer. We sleigh ride in the winter. You name it we use it,” Popper said.
All of the activities and safeguarding of the park by the APA these last nine years has been done without a formal structure.
“We don’t have an office. We aspire to have one. We would like to have staff. We would like to have interns to do things, but right now what we do is keep in close communication through texting and emails,” Lopez-Gilpin said. “We are working with the Bohemian Hall (a beer garden with picnic tables), which provides space for us to meet, and we create so many things with so little. It’s all about the goodwill of the people.” In the end, what’s most important to her is that “everyone’s welcome, because it’s everyone’s park.”