by Bill Batson
Innovative playground plans are blooming like spring flowers in Memorial Park. Members of two initiatives, one to renovate the children’s playground and one to build a skate park, were well represented at the last two Village Board meetings. Both groups seek maximum public participation as they begin to raise funds for the design and building phases of their projects. These efforts are now merging under the umbrella of the Nyack Parks Conservancy creating an open space planning-palooza on our underutilized waterfront.
When Nyack Center Director Kim Cross and Julie Kassel came together in the early 1990s to co-chair the committee that would build the playground that has served the village for almost two decades, the waterfront had no safe place for children to play. “There was a rotten climbing structure next to the river littered with used condoms and syringes,” Cross recalled.
The Friends of the Nyacks adopted their effort, giving them additional contacts and the non-profit status required to raise funds. After a successful negotiation with then Mayor Terry Hekker, the land where the playground is today was made available.
Proceeds from a campaign to collect pennies and spare change through receptacles left in local stores, matched by Cablevision donations, got the ball rolling. A $20,000 anonymous gift in honor of songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen, the parks’ namesake, went to purchase playground equipment. Then came the sweat equity.
“Over 150 people came together to volunteer. The Nyack Fire Department dug holes for the equipment. Bobby Abramson brought his forklift and the whole playground was constructed in a weekend,” said Cross, describing a scene reminiscent of an Amish barn raising.
Memorial Park itself is a living monument to selflessness and volunteerism. The Tappan Zee Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park Association deeded the land to the village in 1935. Nine trees were planted around the perimeter of the park in memory of nine families whose sons were killed in World War I. This site, owned by the Depews from 1732, played an important role in the economic development of the village. Situated where the Nyack Brook meets the Hudson River, the location was ideal for docks, boat yards, quarries and later factories.
The same factors that made the site conducive to commerce makes it a challenging spot to erect recreational equipment. Wooden or metal structures that are exposed to the elements on a riverbank are hard to maintain and require periodic replacement. With extreme weather creating stronger storms and higher tides, our park needs our constant attention.
But have no fear, the civic cavalry is here. Guided by a master planning process being led by our Parks Commission and Park Conservancy and the professional services of award-winning landscape architects Quennell Rothschild (Randalls Island, Hudson River Park) two new committees have risen to the challenge.
One group, Nyack Playground Now has a kickoff event planned for April 6 at 2p in the Nyack Center. Their goal is to raise $100,000 and organize a participatory, community-driven process to renovate the existing children’s playground and install a children’s garden. Nyack Needs a Skatepark has built an impressive constituency (almost 900 “likes” on Facebook) for the creation of a tennis court sized state-of-the-art skate board plaza.
On Thursday, March 28, members of both committees were invited to join the board of the Nyack Park Conservancy. The conservancy was founded in 2004 by Jen Laird White, County of Rockland Veterans Service Agency Director Jerry Donnellan and former Nyack High School Music Director Bert Hughes.
Since their founding, the conservancy has raised over $100,000 for village projects including paying for the Park Summer Kids program, building the dog run in South Nyack, paying for maintenance in Memorial Park and spearheading and paying for a large portion of the waterfront master plan redesign, supported by Scenic Hudson. The first major steps of that plan were the recent removal of the tennis courts and the building of the basketball court and new baseball field.
After the last Village Board meeting, Nyack Mayor Jen Laird White was moved by the display of energetic and constructive citizenship. “It is thrilling that this excited and engaged collection of parents and kids are taking matters into their own hands to improve our public space, especially at a time when local governments are so cash strapped.”
You can learn more about Nyack Needs a Skatepark on Facebook, where you will soon be able to donate. Organizers are also planning a “youthfest” and a “game of stake” in June (pending approval) to engage artists and young people in facility design and fundraising.
The kick-off event for Nyack Playground Now at Nyack Center on April 6th at 2p will include presentations so that people can explore contemporary ideas for playgardens and playground equipment and express their opinions. There will be entertainment and arts and crafts for children as well. The suggested donation for individuals is $10 and $20 for families.
Donations can be made to either initiative by visiting Nyack Parks Conservancy and clicking the “donate” button at the top of the page, or by sending a check to the Nyack Parks Conservancy, PO Box 1014, Nyack NY 10960. You should write “skate park” or “playground” in the memo section of your check.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Planting New Playgrounds” © 2013 Bill Batson.