With City Budget Cuts Looming, Riverside Park Conservancy ‘Will Do Our Very Best to Fill in the Cracks,’ Director Says

By Michael McDowall

New York City faces a $9 billion dollar loss in tax revenue this year, which will result in massive cuts to city services in fiscal year 2021 when the City adopts its budget on July 1. A vote on a proposed budget is expected to occur later on Tuesday.

Although essential resources like education and affordable housing may see as much as $642 million and $583 million in cuts, respectively, the major reductions may be most visible in the refuges for which many New Yorkers have likely gained a new appreciation in recent months: parks and greenspaces.

“Between the proposed budget cuts, our own loss of volunteer groups due to COVID, as well as the anticipated loss of funding from private sources and the heavier use of the park, it’s a quadruple threat,” Riverside Park Conservancy head Dan Garodnick told the Rag. “We are very concerned.”

The Parks Department itself may lose just over $38 million in the new budget, a number which a Parks spokeswoman confirmed on Tuesday. Proposed cuts do not impact capital funding.

“During the crisis, it’s become strikingly clear that parks are critical infrastructure,” the spokeswoman said, in a written response to the Rag. “They touch every facet of our City, and play a role in health, safety, and community development. The staff’s continued service through the crisis demonstrates how committed we are to keeping up our city’s parks for the health and safety of all New Yorkers.”

Last year, Riverside Park Conservancy provided half of the budget for operating Riverside Park. Its operating budget, between $7 million and $8 million, is much leaner than that of its neighbor, the Central Park Conservancy, which raises a budget of nearly $100 million annually, and since 1980 has overseen the investment of nearly $1 billion into Central Park.

“This is a critical moment, and as well-used as they are, parks are in a very vulnerable position,” Garodnick said. “When you consider the important role that parks have played throughout the COVID crisis for people’s physical and mental health, this is not an area we should cut. It’s an area to prioritize.”

Riverside Park Conservancy had intended to advocate for the restoration of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument this year, but that effort is now on hold. If the Parks Department budget sees dramatic cuts, neglect and deterioration in Riverside Park will be all but inevitable.

“There will be fewer trash pick-ups, less maintenance of sprinklers when they break, fewer park enforcement patrols—these are the basic services that allow parks to run,” Garodnick said.

It is neglect that led to the founding of the Riverside Park Conservancy, and parks advocacy organizations like it across the city.

“We are determined not to lose ground. We do not want to go back to the bad old days where everything was overgrown, where parks were characterized by densely packed dirt as opposed to greenery, and when you didn’t feel safe to go into one,” Garodnick said.

“Right now, I would speak up, call and email public officials, and I would donate to your local park conservancy, because we will do our very best to fill in the gaps, but we can only do it with private support,” he urged. The Conservancy is entirely funded by private contributions.

Neighbors and friends are critical to the health of Riverside Park, and opportunities are available for volunteers who are ready to get their hands dirty.

“We have had our ParkTenders caring for the park throughout the pandemic,” Garodnick said. “We have been really encouraged by the number of people who turned out for virtual volunteer trainings during this difficult time. We have been overwhelmed by the response.”

More than a hundred new volunteers turned out for a virtual training held earlier this year, a Riverside Park Conservancy spokeswoman confirmed. While social distancing has prevented volunteers from working on group projects during what is usually a very busy season, new members of the volunteer program have been getting started with trash pickup and keeping paths clear.

Facilities in Riverside Park have begun to reopen along with the rest of the neighborhood. The 96th Street Tennis Courts opened on Monday, with dog runs to follow on July 6th. Playgrounds long closed reopened earlier this month, to the joy of desperate parents and guardians.

But, like many Upper West Siders, Riverside Park’s celebrity goats will remain in the Hudson Valley for the summer. A sensation, the goats ate there way through a particularly dense patch of invasive vegetation last summer.

This summer, it’s humans who are playing catch up.

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought work in Riverside Park to a halt, only two months of work remains to complete the Riverside Park South project, a major redevelopment and rehabilitation of parkland between 59th Street and 71st Street. The project at Riverside Park South involves a reconstruction of the bikeway between West 62nd and West 70th Streets, as well as the addition of new plazas, play areas, lawns, volleyball courts, and a dog run. Work is anticipated to complete this fall.

Further uptown in the 110s, a few readers have noticed path repaving that left something to be desired.

“The challenges in that area are far bigger than what a single paving job will fix,” Garodnick said. “There are deep structural issues related to drainage, which will cause deterioration [of pathways] again and again, and that’s why we pushed for and got $11.5 million dollars to address the conditions in the area. This was an effort by the Parks Department to do a patch to address a small part of the problem in the interim.”

A Parks paving crew recently completed work in the 112th-115th Street area in Riverside Park. This temporary measure will keep the path usable for both pedestrians and vehicles until the larger drainage study and design project can begin.

Nearby, work began last week on a privately funded repair of the step ramps between 110th and 114th Street.

“That has just begun; it will have a significant impact, and repair several access points,” Garodnick said.

Despite the many challenges the City will face in the coming years as it begins to recover from the effects of the pandemic, the Riverside Park Conservancy is here to stay, to advocate for and maintain a public space which Upper West Siders can always count on for a breath of fresh air.

“No matter what happens in the city budget, we will be here, and we are committed to the health and safety of Riverside Park.”

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 13 comments | permalink
    1. Nelson says:

      Great article. Thank you for keeping their important work in the forefront of our minds. We must not take that Park for granted!

    2. Carlos says:

      If they fine everyone in the park who either a) is not wearing a mask despite being in close proximity to others, b) has a dog off leash when they shouldn’t, or c) is riding a bike improperly, be it too fast or in a place where bikes aren’t allowed such as along the river in the 70s/low 80s, that could raise a lot of money!

    3. Wendy Deutelbaum says:

      Riverside Park is the best, thanks for your leadership, Dan. On repairs on the docket, any chance for an upcoming repair of the stairs down to the Volunteer House–it’d be appreciated by volunteers, residents and pups alike.

    4. STAN says:

      With Deblahsio in charge,methinks this will be lean times for parks amongst other things too lengthy to get into.

    5. Judy Harris says:

      I hope the return of the goats is funded.

    6. Ira Gershenhorn says:

      Stupid choices in capital projects (which don’t get cut) cause higher maintenance costs.

    7. BLS says:

      Riverside Park South ….can part of the plaza’s chain link fence be moved? This will allow for more seating and space, while the rest is completed. The finish date keeps being pushed back and back.
      Additionally, the restrooms need to be monitored for TP:)

    8. Olivia says:

      Does anyone know about the dead fish floating in the Hudson today 7/1/20? Too small to be sturgeon.

    9. Arlene mehlman says:

      Riverside park is a gem. So beautiful, people , dogs. For the most part very considerate including dogs off leash
      Let us know -volunteers-how we can help keep up our sacridcRiverside park

    10. Bill T says:

      The Conservancy does a great job with its limited resources and they are owed our great thanks. But don’t we all agree it’s scandalous that Central Park is infinitely better resourced than Riverside? The argument is that the disparity is caused by its higher private donations, but all that does is cement the inequities. In this time of crisis consideration should be given to reallocating Central Park funds to other parks badly hit by cuts, especially but not exclusively Riverside Park.

    11. Maureen Friar says:

      I just want to say that Riverside Park has been my refuge during this corona crisis. To walk in the woods, watch gorgeous sunsets in the evening, take bide rides and long walks, even while social distancing, has made all the difference to my well-being. Plus the spring blossoms were simply gorgeous. Thank you so much!

    12. Julie Diamond says:

      How about signage in the park that might encourage users to throw garbage in cans?
      Second, if the raccoons are guilty of strewing garbage from the cans, along the Drive, are there any humane ways to clear them out??