Vol. 13, No. 11 June 15 - 28, 2000


THE STATE OF OUR PARKS -- Sixth in a Series

Decade After Tree Massacre Parkway Back on Track


It's been 10 years since a city contractor notoriously cut down over 30 maple trees on Mosholu Parkway in the midst of a lengthy sewer and water main project. The incident, which came to be known as the Mosholu Parkway Tree Massacre, sparked a loud and angry community outcry and ultimately changed how the city undertakes such projects.

Today, Mosholu Parkway, which runs from Van Cortlandt Park to the New York Botanical Garden, shows little trace of the decade-old destruction. The parkway, lined by wide, tree-filled lawns and a newly paved bike path, is a popular recreation area with improvements fueled by community volunteer efforts and implemented by the Parks Department.

Tree Massacre Spurs Action
It was 1988 when Perez Interboro Asphalt, Inc. began a project to install a new sewer and water main system in Norwood. "That project was a disaster from day one," said Myra Goggins, who lived in Norwood at the time, and is now president of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.

Goggins recalled that the contractor dug a six-foot hole in front of her building on East Mosholu Parkway North and left it there for the whole summer. "There was so much dust and dirt, you couldn't even open your window," she said.

The dirt was such a huge problem that traffic could hardly move on Bainbridge Avenue when it rained, said homeowner Bill Friedheim. The huge holes dug in the streets were also unguarded, posing potential danger to children, residents complained.

But the last straw came one day in November of 1989 when construction workers cut down the trees from Webster Avenue to 206th Street. "They were bringing in these chainsaws," Friedheim said. "My wife and I ran out and told them they have to stop."

When Goggins came home from work that day, her phone was flooded with calls from neighbors. "They were sawing them at the base and putting them in the chopper," she said. "Then they were ground into wood chips."

For residents, the trees were a trademark of Norwood's beauty, and also had historical value, having been planted 70 years ago in memory of soldiers who died in World War I.

Mobilizing quickly, residents and members of the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition called the Bronx borough president and urged him to get the Parks Department to halt the work. The company stopped work at about 4:45 p.m., but that was after the 33 trees were killed.

Residents were outraged, especially since they had already complained that trees were being damaged by the work. "Even we could see things weren't installed properly. [Using big machinery], they were banging into trees and damaging the roots and branches," Goggins said.

City Admits Fault, Changes Policy
The incident erupted into a scandal covered in the citywide media, as details emerged that the city was grossly negligent in its planning and that the construction company had a checkered past.

"They [Perez Interboro Asphalt, Inc.] had a record of poor delivery on contracts and just a history of problems," Friedheim said. "They did incredibly sloppy work ... constantly cutting into gas lines, all as a result of careless work."

Both the Parks Department and the Department of Transportation (DOT) admitted they made big mistakes. The Parks Department had given the contractor the go-ahead to remove the trees after the company had improperly installed new sidewalks, which were too low to support the trees' roots.

A DOT memorandum investigating the incident stated bluntly, "Our consultants ... were sloppy, irresponsible and thoughtless. Our own employees provided little or no direction and seemed disinterested and ill-equipped. Our management spent too little time on this job and displayed insensitivity toward the community."

The DOT also revealed that the resident engineer falsified on his resume that he was a registered professional engineer.

The city altered its policy so that tree consultants would be required for all major construction projects.

"It's an historical event because general contractors have all heard of the Mosholu massacre," said Carsten Glaeser, a plant biologist at Lehman College and a tree expert. Glaeser is hired by construction companies to "ensure damage to trees is minimized" and works as a liaison to the forestry division of the Parks Department.

According to Glaeser, contractors need to have a tree consultant full-time during excavation work, either on site or on call, to assess the project, so that root damage, limb breakage and bark wounds can be prevented.

"By reducing damage by construction, you increase longevity of trees," Glaeser said. Tree damage invites decay, fungus and parasites, and can cause a tree to rot within five to seven years, he explained.

Following the tree fiasco, the city did a new landscaping of the parkway, planting bushes and replacement trees. The trees are still much skinnier and sparser than the older ones, but residents say the area is generally in good shape.

Taking on Mosholu Maintenance
The parkway is used for a variety of recreational activities including jogging, picnicking, tanning and sledding. The recently renovated Kossuth Playground and the relatively new Knox- Gates Playground, both on the parkway's north side are popular destinations for neighborhood youth.

The Bedford Mosholu Community Association (BMCA), a volunteer community group, and the Friends of Mosholu Parkway, a group affiliated with the coalition that has been inactive recently, have worked over the past 10 years to help maintain the area, holding cleanups and plantings, and pushing for improvements.

Back in 1997, when crumbling sidewalks on the Bedford Park side resulted in senior citizens falling, BMCA gathered 300 petition signatures and sent them to the Bronx Parks Commissioner Bill Castro and elected officials. With money allotted by Councilwoman June Eisland, Castro fixed problem sections of the sidewalk and replanted trees in Gully Park, located in the southeastern corner of the parkway between Marion and Webster avenues.

The Parks Department also recently paved over a stone path on the north side of the parkway to make it suitable for bicycling, forging a fluid connection along the Mosholu-Pelham Greenway, a network of paths connecting Van Cortlandt Park in the west to City Island and Orchard Beach in the east,. The newly-paved section goes from Gun Hill Road to Van Cortlandt Avenue East. Previously, bikers would go onto the roadway of the parkway when they approached that part of the trail, according to Richard Gans, a member of Transportation Alternatives, a cyclist advocacy group.

Gully Park improvements are now in BMCA's sights. According to BMCA president Barbara Stronzcer, the retaining wall in Gully Park is deteriorating and its many holes are attracting rodents to the park. She added that the park could also use a general cleanup and planting.

Castro said the area is baited regularly for rodents, and that the Parks Department is developing a punch list for Gully Park improvements.

Stronczer had no major complaints for the rest of the parkway area, but said she would like to see more daily maintenance. "It's a big area and there is not enough staff," she said.

Overall, the consensus seems to be that Mosholu Parkway is in better shape than it has been in years, especially since the days of the Tree Massacre.

"The parkway looks even better now than before," Goggins said.

Get Involved

To contact the Bedford Mosholu Community Association, write to 400 E. Mosholu Parkway, Bronx, NY 10458.

To contact the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition, which sponsors cleanups of area parks, call 655-1054.

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