Vol. 13, No. 8 April 20 - May 3, 2000


THE STATE OF OUR PARKS -- Second in a Series

Oval Park Still Popular, But Needs Repairs


rea residents are already beginning to flock to Williamsbridge Oval Park, the green oasis in the heart of Norwood that boasts a multitude of sports and recreation facilities.

But many residents and park volunteers say the popular community destination is showing signs of serious deterioration and they want the city to take immediate action.

Park is Wearing Down
"It used to be a beautiful park area," said Norwood resident Natly Esnard. "It's been deteriorating in the last 10 years."

Esnard and other residents complain that the six-sided "hex blocks" that make up the park's walkways are broken up, that chunks of stone are falling loose from the stairways, and that curbs are worn away from erosion and neglect. "The pathways are just in horrendous condition because of the erosion taking place on the slopes that surround the park," said Fay Muir, a founder of the Oval Suns, a park volunteer group.

Other park observers say the Oval is not as green as it should be. Although the perimeter is lined with trees that are now beginning to bloom, what's in the middle doesn't match up. "The grass has not been re-seeded for at least 10 years and it's now a dustbowl," Muir said.

Still, park volunteers Frances Lewis, Sirio Guerino and Jane Chaney try their best to keep the park full of plant life. The three all chip in to plant flowers and maintain park gardens, and sometimes direct cleanups and greenups with students from nearby PS 56 and St. Brendan's School. But Guerino said upkeep of the garden areas is difficult because not all parts of the park have access to water. "We've been unable to water the plants because the hydrants are locked up ... and the pipes need to be repaired," he said.

Though many parts of the park are run down, volunteers say the city does a good job of keeping it clean. But Guerino thinks that may be part of the problem that the park is cleaned too well. "They spit-shine the park too much by taking things away," he said. "You need leaves to deteriorate to fertilize the soil."

Muir argued that weed-whacking has been a damaging process. "By removing weeds and removing leaves, it loosens soil," she said. "The pathways are now mudways and vegetation is growing between the hex stones."

Muir and Lewis also pointed out that park vehicles sometimes run over the grass and that the steps are banged up from city trucks driving through the park's narrow paths. "Those paths are not made for vehicles and they hit the retaining walls," Muir said. "We have huge blocks of stone that are out of the retaining walls."

Lack of volunteerism is another problem, Lewis and Guerino said. While the Oval used to attract hundreds of participants for the annual clean-ups sponsored by the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition, the group has focused less on its park cleanup efforts in the last couple of years. "Mounds of people used to come out for clean-ups," Guerino said. "We've gone from hundreds of people to a few."

Margaret Groarke, president of the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition, said part of the problem is her group has had its hands full with an ongoing crisis at another park in the neighborhood and that cleanup efforts have been running on autopilot. "This neighborhood has been hit with a lot of things recently," Groarke said. "We have been so wrapped up in fighting the filtration plant [planned for Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park] that other important things didn't get as much attention."

Groarke said the MWSCC will refocus on the Oval beginning on April 25 (see "Get Involved" below) when it will hold a planning a meeting for a May 20 cleanup. (Disclosure: Groarke is married to Norwood News editor Jordan Moss.)

Park Has Plenty to Offer
Despite concerns about many aspects of the park's condition, residents seem to agree that other aspects of the park have improved significantly. "I think it has gotten much better," said Norwood resident Juliana Oloyo. "Since they built the playground a lot more kids go there."

A new playground was added to the park a few years ago when Councilwoman June Eisland allocated $560,000 for park improvements. Funding also covered new spray showers and wrought-iron fencing.

In addition to two modern playgrounds, the park also boasts tennis courts, a paved softball area, basketball courts, a track, a soccer field, a dog run and a shuffleboard area. The Mosholu Montefiore Community Center runs a popular sports program at the park that includes soccer, flag football and roller hockey.

The Williamsbridge Oval Center, at the southern end of the park, runs a 51-year-old pre-school program in the mornings and afternoons and has an after-school tutoring program during the academic year. Children also attend the center's summer day camp, Monday through Thursday, that includes tennis, arts and crafts and trips to museums.

Adults and teens use the center's fitness facilities and enjoy the pool and ping-pong tables. Also, a senior citizen group holds talent shows and holiday parties and plays games like chess and bocci.

The center was revamped by the Parks Department a year ago, said its director, Daniel Roach. New windows were installed in spots that had been bricked up years ago to prevent break-ins. Also, most of the roof was replaced and the center was repainted.

Some Help is on the Way
Local officials are now addressing what can be done to restore the park. Eisland has already budgeted $350,000 in city capital improvement funds. According to Bronx Parks Commissioner Bill Castro, the money will be used to fix the entrance ways and for erosion control measures.

Castro said he will meet in the next two weeks with Partnerships for Parks representatives and with Dart Westphal, president of Mosholu Preservation Corporation (the nonprofit that publishes the Norwood News) which is working for park improvements in concert with its renovation of the Reservoir Keeper's house across the street from the Oval's north entrance.

Castro said he would like to see work on the tennis courts and the replacement of the basketball court's backboards. And according to Juan Rivera, outreach coordinator for Partnerships for Parks in the north Bronx, an extended wish list includes resurfacing the lawn, and repairing fencing around the entire park perimeter. Community members who are concerned about traffic safety near the park would also like to see extended sidewalks, or neckdowns, installed at the park's five entrances (see article - "Oval Traffic Safety Concerns Mount").

All these improvements would cost the city several million dollars, Castro said, so identifying additional funding sources could be necessary.

But Norwood residents say the park has been neglected too long and that repairs should come sooner rather than later.

"Oval Park has been like an orphan," said Lewis. "It hurts to see it happening when it could be so much nicer."

Get Involved

** Contact the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition at 655-1054.
** or call Juan Rivera, Outreach Coordinator for Partnerships for Parks in the northwest Bronx at 430-1861.

Save the Dates
** On April 25, the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition will hold a planning meeting for Oval Park volunteers at 7 p.m. at 3092 Hull Ave. (corner of East 204th Street).
** On May 6, New York Cares Day will take place at Oval Park. Volunteers will participate in gardening and clean-up work. For information, call Juan Rivera at 430-1861.
** On May 20, there will be a cleanup from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Oval Park. Call MWSCC at 655-1054 for details.

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