Thursday, March 3, 2011

End the Litter in Prospect Park

To The Woods!

Below is the open letter I have sent to local bloggers. I also sent another query about Prospect Park litter to Parks, via the form on the their website, and we will see if this one - the 3rd - receives a response. 

I am drafting emails to Kevin Jeffrey, Borough Commissioner for Brooklyn, who, it seems, vowed publicly last October to fight litter in the park, which is promising, and to Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of Parks. 

I suspect that we will be met with one word: Budget, so we have to find ways around that. Or fix it.

Some early responses to the letter below are very encouraging, and we are hoping to engage a broad spectrum of the community that uses and runs Prospect Park.

Please get in touch if  you have good ideas or feel you can help.

Dear Bloggers and Photographers

I am a fellow Brooklyn resident and blogger and am in the very early stages and figuring out how to fix the significant and unique-in-flavor litter problem in the wooded areas of the park near and around the Vale of Cashmere and Rick's Place.

 Picture courtesy of Google Maps.

I am aware that there is significant litter in Prospect Park after major holidays and events, but I perceive this one as hidden, continuous and ignored by the official custodians of the park.

One of my first steps is to approach local bloggers to help spread a co-ordinated message, and to ask for ideas. If you feel it's a lost cause, and that litter is something we have to accept, this is not for you. I am not a natural committee animal - I just know I can't do this on my own. I need help.

These woods are a unique part of the park ('the only forest in Brooklyn' as the Prospect Park Alliance website states) and are avoided due to what I perceive as active neglect (yeah, I know) on the part of the Parks Department and the cruising activities that make this area famous or notorious, depending on one's point of view and inclinations.

Much of the nastiest litter here is sex-related - condoms, wrappers, lube, wet wipes, tissue paper, plus all the ordinary stuff: plastic bags, bottles, alcohol and non-, endlessly.

I'm not trying or hoping to stop the cruising. Although sex between strangers in public makes me skittish. But I am trying to stop the scourge of litter which makes these woods foul, sad and decrepit.

Through the blogs I would like to draw the attention of: the public, neighborhood associations, and most especially the Parks Department. They are simply not doing their job.

My point is simple: This is part of a famous public park. This amount and type of litter is unacceptable.

The conversation we need to have:

With Parks
: What is your trash policy? How is it enforced? And if a certain tree is a favorite spot for sex, put a trash can there. Then empty it. It is very easy to ID popular spots. Just look for the used condoms. And beef up sanitation patrols in the area to pick up what is left. Co-ordinate with public volunteers. Be present.
With the public: this is real woodland, and it is FOUL. Tell the Parks Department about it, and ask them to fix it. Volunteer some time for a clean up. Write to your congressperson. Visit the woods. Be present.
With the men:  Pick it up. Throw it away. In a trash can.

Preliminarily, I would like to ask those of you who are interested in helping tackle this issue to let me know. Then we can decide on a day for an organized blog blitz of information. A set piece of the bare basics and info, plus a personal take with your own pictures, on the situation. And then regular, timed follow ups. Co-ordination with local newspapers, forums and zines. I would appreciate any other ideas, too.

'Frinstance: an online petition to be delivered to the Commissioner of Parks and the Mayor, a collaborative blog dedicated to solving the problem...

I am writing to the Commissioner of Parks and the Borough Commissioner of Brooklyn. Two online queries last year went unanswered, and these will be more formal in nature.

There it is. Sign up if you dare. Click my profile picture for email.


  1. Well, as a very recent visitor to Brooklyn, I whole-heartedly support you from here.
    Yes, I did walk in some of the Park, but not the area you write about. At least, I don't think I was there. I wandered a lot!The litter I saw was largely cigarette packets and drink cans and polystyrene food packets.I suspect much was under the snow.
    I hope this campaign works.

  2. The thoughts of a seasoned Beltway Insider, if you care. Probably not. Sorry it’s so long-winded.

    You are correct; you will be met with the word Budget. And you will be laughed at, I am sorry to say. Sounds bitter, I know, but things just ain’t pretty in the good ol’ U.S. of A. right now. I haven’t had the chance to read through what Cuomo said today, but I have heard it involved more cuts.

    If you must talk to the city, you must have numbers. These are all from FY 2011, which makes them irrelevant. They are for example. Sorry that I don’t have more data about FY 2012, or the five-year plan.

    From Bloomberg: The Budget for 2011 includes a 13 percent reduction in city funding for the Department of Parks and Recreation’s largest budget area—maintenance and operations—which funds upkeep and repair of all park properties and facilities. Total city funding for maintenance and operations … is projected to decrease by another $22 million in 2011. Total city funding for maintenance and operations in 2011 is projected to be $152 million. The parks department is continuing a hiring freeze in 2011 … Given that maintenance and operations represents 64 percent of parks department spending, a significant portion of the savings from the hiring freeze is expected to come from maintenance and operations staffing. To date, the hiring freezes and vacancy reductions have come up short as fewer than expected employees have left the department, therefore saving less than budgeted. The Preliminary Budget added $4.5 million to the parks department in 2010 to cover the shortfall in personnel costs, a significant portion of which are likely in maintenance and operations. The department has already implemented a reduction in its seasonal workforce … these prior cuts, already reflected in the budget for 2011, are expected to provide savings of $9.7 million next year.

    My advice, again, if you care. Skip the city for now and go straight to the non-profits, who will listen.

    If you aren't an experienced grant writer, and don’t have a friend who is an ace grant writer - get one.

    You need effective proposals.

    You need a whole lot of the f-word.


    Good luck.

  3. MIT - I hope so, too.

    Carrie - you rock. Thank you. I know I will be laughed at, and why. But I have to start with the city. Doesn't mean I end there. Perhaps the upside of being Uninitiated is that I can't see what is coming so haven't given up at the start.

    Stay in touch.

  4. I found your blog ages ago while researching David Austin roses, which I was interested in growing in a container in my tiny community garden plot. (I have 'Molineux,' and it is doing fine.) I always assumed I'd get in touch with you about black spot or something, someday.

    As time permits I will add more advice. (I'm not gonna promise much. I've made that mistake before and because I believe in your cause I don't want to generate additional problems.) I've spent a lifetime working at grassroots funding and I try to help "the little guys" (I hate hearing that) when I can.

    Read everything you can here:

    I haven't really looked, but see what these guys have to say:

    Again, good luck. Just keep telling yourself that this is a cause that matters. And keep a good, stiff drink in the house. You'll need it...

  5. I don't know if this idea will translate well to there in Brooklyn, but here in Greensboro many of the trails in our parks have been adopted by various civic groups or organizations such as mountain bikers, Audubon Society, garden clubs, etc. Once a month, they go and clean up the trail they have adopted. There are signs put up and it is also notated on our park maps that such-and-so-trail or path is adopted by such-and-so-organization. It is a way to have people feel responsible for our parks and walking trails. And it doesn't cost the city a thing outside of the trail markers and maps.

    North Carolina also has Big Sweep which is highly advertised through our newspapers and local TV stations. They get an immense turn-out for this year after year. Tons of trash is cleaned up by volunteers across the state. Their website may help give you ideas:

    All of this is budget-friendly in this Great Recession.

    Hope it helps! Prospect Park needs some good friends, it seems.

  6. Karen's approach is also used in Richmond for an annual clean up day along the James River. Many constituencies send many volunteers to a day-long event.

    You might well be able to get bicyclists, walkers, joggers and their clubs or groups to join in, plus gardeners, and plain old people who give a damn about the park. I think you email campaign might reach some of those folks.

    It would also help if someone who knows someone at various news outlets could make a personal contact, and get someone with a voice interested that would help immensely. Good luck. We are pulling for you.

  7. Thanks, Karen - I think sponsorship will be the way to go, which irks me, but there it is.

    webb - although it is good as an adjunct to maintenance, I am less interested in organizing a once off clean up, which is not hard to do - and volunteers are already working on it...A long term solution is needed.

  8. for many many years going back to the mid-60's, a force of nature, Robert Makla who founded the Greensward Foundation and created the Friends of....Prospect, Central Park, Fort Green, Branch Brook & Cadwalader Park (both in NJ) directed lots of energy to cleaning of the Vale and getting people to love their parks.

    Very sadly he died last year. Sadly with his death, the Foundation is being dissolved. And I understand the Vale is now very neglected. This said, the Friends were a powerhouse of energy and getting things done. here are a few links:

    It would seems that the Prospect Park Alliance would be responsive to your outreach.

    While I am in NJ and have little else to add, one bee buzzing can get a lot done.

  9. I really hope this isn’t getting annoying, as I do mean to help.

    Try this site. Go to the ‘Online Database’ page, search “park” and it will give you an idea of what Council members support what in regards to the parks. Then contact them directly.

    These guys look interesting. Might be mostly State Parks for some of them, but some good information there.

    Sorry I was never logged into my Google account. I don’t use it often and I had forgotten the password.

    I really hope some of this helps. Keep us posted.

  10. This area you speak of is getting more and more disgusting every year. The trash is disgusting. I do have to say though that while I have seen mostly men passing through this area, this is also visited by male-female couples and even students playing hookey from school. So I would open the dialogue up to more than just-The men.

  11. It dismays me that they plead "budget". Yet simply by enforcing the law, they can issue citations, which bring in revenue. Ask any dog owner and they know they are doing exactly this for dogs off leash after off leash hours, and this is fine. I'm all for the enforcement of law. But come summer, when the park is treated like a trash pit, and the ground is littered with hot coals and mounds of picnic remains, no citations are issued. The "budget" is no excuse when the answer can be found in issuing citations for law violations as they are written on the books. I will double my efforts to write to my officials demanding this this year; the more voices calling out, the harder it will be to ignore us.

  12. Its not only the responsibility of the city to clean up our park. Its our park and we need to clean it up. A monthly or quarterly community pick up with volunteers providing bags, gloves and human-power would not cost the city anything. We could also get Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or the sports teams who use the park involved with a regular community pick up day.

    Picking up your community gives you a sense of pride and makes you less likely to litter. (If it were up to me, picking up litter would be taught in school.) I don't mean a once off clean up, but a regular community clean up getting all sorts of groups involved.

    Of course the people cleaning won't be the same people as the ones littering...which won't stop the problem. So then, is the problem the litter or the use of our park for torrid activities?

    I'm happy to help.


  13. Carrie - I'm sorry your last two comments weren't initially published - Blogger thought they were spam, probably because of the links. Thank you very much for all that info. It will take some time to wade through, and is greatly appreciated. There is usually a good stiff drink within reach :-)

    MSDWorks - thank you, Lorraine!

    Thanks, Kris...point taken.

    Actor - yes, one wonders about ticketing. The cops say they have to catch someone in the act of littering. That said, a police presence is no bad thing. Cops on the beat. This budget thing will kill the country. We have money for war, but not for our own backyard.

    Amber - thank you. In the end this is what it will amount to, yes. Doing it ourselves. I would just like to engage publicly the powers that be, to have them admit that we have a crisis in our parks.

  14. I grew up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in the 1960's but Prospect Park was a favorite place to go for a Sunday walk...I even took horseback riding lessons there...if it is any consolation it was pretty dirty then too...however this was back before all the fast food containers...which seem to make up most of the litter here in Texas...Here in our town of DeSoto TX we have the adopt a street program as well...and that seems to help...but sadly few people in the USA connect taxes to services...and it seems that parks and libraries are always the first to be cut. Never underestimate what you could accomplish! I wish you the best of luck and I will keep checking on your blog...I found you when I was really homesick for Brooklyn and did some searching.

    Carol Wayne

  15. I admire you for taking a stand.

  16. Well, unfortunately the following has now taken place. The Parks Dept. has posted inconspicuous signs at some entrances to the Midwood section of Prospect Park. I wouldn't have noticed it if I didn't have a photographic memory and noticed something out of place. It was a sign attached to one of those low fences that are meant to protect vegetation. The sign read, "This area closed after sunset." To me this seemed quite vague. So, I decided to circle the above mentioned perimeter and see if there were other signs posted around the known gathering place. I found a total of 4 signs that were practically camouflaged. Two were attached to fencing that is there to protect plants. And I'd expect those to mention something about a newly seeded lawn. But those signs also stated that "This area of the park is closed after sunset." This is now the second area closed by the parks dept after sunset. The other being 'The Vale of Cashmere', which is just across east drive from the newly closed Midwood section. Both of these sections have been a stomping ground for men coming together for decades, who all have different reasons or circumstances for doing so.

    Here are my issues...
    (1) The idea of placing garbage receptacles near where known sexual activities are taking place would have been great. I've actually seen garbage canisters disappear from the area over the past few years.
    (2) The total closing of a known cruising area does not solve the problem of trash. Lets say for example... You have a problem with rabbits in your yard, so you decide to remove all of your vegetation to deter the bunnies from entering your yard. Well, the bunnies just move on to the next food source. Which may be the next forested area. And maybe that forested area isn't as concealed as this one has been.

    Where there were a few men confined to a section that they felt somewhat comfortable in, they have now been locked out of their area. Last night while searching for the posted signs, I noticed guys cruising outside of the newly shut down perimeter. They were trying to avoid the stings by police which have now gone into effect. I saw floodlights on a police van, heard loud yelling and a whole bunch of men scurrying out of the newly shut down area.I don't know if the police were handing out summonses or arresting people. I didn't stick around to find out.

    My solution here would have been to pick up the trash. Which is something I often did myself out of a respect for nature and mankind around me. In a world where the LGBT have less rights than their straight counterparts it is not surprising to me that there is sexual activity in the park. But for the most part it was confined to a certain area. That area of Prospect Park is bordered by poorer neighborhoods. So I can see why a person who has a different sexual preference, but doesn't have the luxury of living by himself, can't afford to take the subway to a possible mate's place or just feels safe there amongst others in his situation might frequent this area. While I agree that there is certainly a lot of trash strewn about the area, I feel that the recent tactics by the police and the Parks Department are more of an attack on these people who are already largely looked down upon by society.

    I hope a more sensible and fair solution comes of this. As the original blogger wrote: "I'm not trying or hoping to stop the cruising." And I am glad to hear that. But, now I wonder what is going to happen next. Will these individuals continue to be harassed by law enforcement?
    I also was not happy to see the condoms and condom wrappers scattered about mother nature's lawn.Which is why I decided to put on some protective gloves and start picking up the trash myself. But I was glad to see that the individuals there were practicing safe sex.

    Love and Light,
    Industronik =)

  17. Industronik - please meet us in Midwood at 9am on Tuesday the 10th to pick up the trash left by people practising safe sex :-) East drive and Central Drive, corner of.

    The 'original blogger' would be me, and this was posted on my blog. Hope to see you there. Drop me an email for more details (click on my profile picture for address). Constructive comments like yours are more helpful attached to a real name. Otherwise this whole debate goes underground and is irrelevant.


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