Neglected Ferry Point Park Overflows With Trash, Booze and Illegal Vendors

By Patrick Wall on October 4, 2012 1:25pm 

THROGS NECK — Barbara Lopez, president of the Honduras Unidos soccer league, stood at the edge of Ferry Point Park Sunday afternoon and surveyed the scene.

More than an hour had passed since two league teams — one filled with Jamaican immigrants, the other with Hondurans — had competed, but still the park was jam-packed.

Children zigzagged across the field, adults clustered along the sidelines chatting and sipping beer, men gambled around tables on the edge of the woods, and a small army of unlicensed merchants served pupusas, baleadas and horchata to the masses.

But not a single Parks Department employee, or even a police officer, was spotted in the park that entire afternoon.

So Lopez and a handful of paid helpers began to trudge across the park collecting trash themselves — otherwise, she feared her league would lose access to the coveted synthetic-turf field.

“It’s a lot for one person with a permit to clean a whole park like that,” said Lopez, 53.

While she spoke, a man sold beer out of a stroller beside her and another tossed an empty bottle on the ground. Behind her, a different man urinated through a chain-link fence, since the entire 414-acre park lacks a single comfort station.

“It’s not fair,” she said.

Ferry Point Park, about half the size of Central Park, sits atop a former landfill on the banks of the East River in the far southeast corner of The Bronx.

The eastern side of the park will eventually enclose an 18-hole public golf course, currently under construction, which Donald Trump will operate.

The western portion sports eight athletic fields, where hundreds of soccer players and their fans converge every weekend from April to October.

Many arrive in the morning and leave after dark, during which time it is rare to encounter a Parks Department employee or a cop.

“I’ve been there — it’s crazy,” said an officer from the 45th Precinct, which includes Ferry Point, as well as Pelham Bay Park and Orchard Beach.

He said officers, often in plain clothes, patrol Ferry Point for about a half-hour each Saturday and Sunday.

The officers know illegal gambling, vending and drinking are rampant — they confiscated 15 coolers of beer on one occasion — but they can only issue summonses if they witness those activities during brief visits, he said.

Lopez told the officer that a fight broke out among some soccer spectators this summer and a person was stabbed, but no one called 911, he said.

If a few Parks Department enforcement officers were stationed at the field, the officer added, they could issue tickets for the lesser offenses and refer more serious matters to the police.

“Why aren’t they there?” the officer said. “You call us, we’ll show up. But we can’t sit in the park — we have to protect the streets.”

There are 15 Parks Department enforcement officers responsible for patrolling all the borough’s parks, including Ferry Point, said Parks Department spokesman Zachary Feder. The five Urban Park Rangers in The Bronx also have enforcement powers.

Ferry Point Park is cleaned five days a week by a mobile crew, Feder said. But no workers can be stationed at the park until a comfort station is built, slated for 2014.

“Not having a single worker permanently assigned to this heavily used park speaks volumes about the city's commitment to those who use it — mostly immigrants and people of color,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, a nonprofit group.

Croft also disputed the number of enforcement patrol officers, saying that only six officers are assigned full daily patrols -- the others are supervisors and mounted officers.

City Councilman James Vacca, who represents Throgs Neck, said the borough suffers from a “severe shortage” or Park Enforcement Patrol, or PEP, officers.

“The Bronx has some of the biggest parks in the city and not enough PEP officers to cover all that territory,” Vacca said.

Without police or Parks Department officers keeping an eye on the large crowds, some locals avoid the park altogether on weekends.

“You really don’t feel comfortable at that park on Sundays,” said Dorothea Poggi, president of the volunteer group Friends of Ferry Point Park.

About three years ago, Parks Department officers were a familiar sight at the park, and “it was a whole different atmosphere,” Poggi said. But with less-frequent patrols, the park now seems chaotic on weekends, she said.

“You take out a camera to take a picture of a juvenile red-tail hawk, and you feel uncomfortable because between you and that hawk there are six illegal things going on,” she said.

While the Honduras Unidos teams played Sunday, food vendors erected more than 20 booths around the field, where they sold enchiladas, corn on the cob, coconut bread and tamarind juice.

Only one of the vendors held a permit, according to the Parks Department.

Before long, Styrofoam plates, plastic utensils and beer bottles piled up on the grass around the field and on the turf itself.

Anthony Gaillard, 46, who Lopez offers $50 and a few meals each Sunday to clean Ferry Point, had been working since noon. He paused for a moment to frown at the heaps of trash scattered around the park.

“It’s six o’clock right now,” he said. “I’ll be out of here at 11.”

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