By Marie Holmes
At a meeting of the Community Board 7 Parks & Environment Committee on Wednesday, January 26, the board passed a resolution to address concerns surrounding Theodore Roosevelt Park’s Bull Moose Dog Run, adjacent to the American Museum of Natural History on 81st Street.
In attendance was NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro, who responded to community members’ concerns and suggestions with a promise to send in Parks Enforcement Patrol officers as early as next Monday.
“The solution is a summons book,” said Castro.
Members and speakers agreed that the primary issues regarding the dog run are noise disturbance and illicit use of a nearby Theodore Roosevelt Park lawn as an off-leash area. Several speakers noted that these problems have been exacerbated by the surge in dog ownership during the pandemic.
Compounding the problem of non-sanctioned use of the lawn is the surface material of the dog run. When it was renovated and reopened last July, the ground was covered with rice gravel, characterized as “not hospitable to dogs” by Elaine Boxer, an active member of the dog-run community. In a previous CB7 Parks & Environment Committee meeting, Boxer had reported that the contractor in charge of the renovation was unable to procure the pea gravel used previously in the dog run, hence the introduction of the sharper rice gravel.
Robyn Epstein, board member of the Theodore Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association (TRPNA) and president of the 35 W 81st Street Co-Op, said that her pup, Macho, suffered a detached cornea after being hit in the eye by a piece of the rice gravel.
The gravel issue has resulted in “a second de facto dog recreation area,” according to Steve Anderson, president of TRPNA, the block association for 81st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.
Linda Alexander, an area resident and CB7 board member, shared photos and a short video, which she said were taken recently, of dogs exuberantly cavorting on the lawn, located near the northwest corner of the park, while owners lounged carefree on the grass nearby. Such trespassing on the lawn, says Anderson, results in damage to the grass and an increase in already intolerable noise.
Members of the The Friends of Roosevelt Park, which receives funding from the Museum of Natural History and direct donations, spoke of the long-standing issue of excessive noise emanating from the dog run at all hours. The genesis of the issue is structural, as the dog run abuts the 20-foot garage wall of the museum’s planetarium, “catapulting” noise into the facing apartment buildings on 81st Street, according to Peter Wright, who spoke on behalf of Friends of Roosevelt Park.
Wright gave a comprehensive overview of solutions that have been proposed over the years to ameliorate the noise problem. Two possibilities quickly dismissed as ineffective were the planting of bushes against the wall and the installation of “acoustifence” material. The acoustics firm Cerami also explored the insertion of 10-foot-high transparent barriers alongside the dog run, which it estimated would absorb 50% of noise, at a cost of approximately $300,000. This money had been previously earmarked in the city budget by Gale Brewer, however, it remains to be confirmed that the money is still available for this project.
Friends of Roosevelt Park’s immediate recommendation was a return to a policy that had been in effect many years ago: closing the dog run overnight. The group proposed a 9 p.m. closing time for the dog run, at which point it would be locked by a parks employee. “We think that this proposal is the most practical,” Wright concluded. “It means there will be barking up to a certain hour,” he acknowledged, “but not at midnight.”
Commissioner Castro began his response by noting that the Parks Department had reached out to the supplier about changing the surface material of the dog run, and they were told the pea gravel was still not available. He suggested trying to find “an alternative surface.” He expressed doubts about the efficacy of the transparent barriers, but was an enthusiastic proponent of increased enforcement.
“We had a problem in an East side park and we brought our Parks Enforcement Patrol in,” said Castro. ”It really turned things around,” he said, promising to have officers dispatched to Theodore Roosevelt Park as early as Monday. “I will have them both day and evening and we will blitz this,” he said.
At the meeting’s end, the committee passed a resolution which outlined the issues affecting those living in proximity to the park, recommending that the dog run establish official hours of 7 a.m.-9 p.m., as well as an increase in Parks Enforcement Patrol presence to issue summonses for rules violations such as allowing dogs to run off-leash on the lawn.
TRPNA is forming a working group and is particularly interested in hearing from those who use the dog run. Email Steve@TRPNA.org for more information.