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Inwood Park Trees Thinned Out to Thwart Muggers

By Carla Zanoni | February 23, 2012 12:02pm

INWOOD — Inwood tree lovers are up in arms after the Parks Department cut down dozens of trees over the past week, saying the city's efforts to tamp down an ongoing mugging problem can't be solved with a chainsaw.

Parks Department spokesman Phil Abramson confirmed that crews have cut down approximately 40 trees in Isham Park and Inwood Hill Park since Feb. 20 and plan to continue work until Saturday. He said crews were targeting dead trees or those damaged in recent storms.

"This will open up sight lines in and out of the park to better improve its appearance and public safety," Abramson said in an email, adding that the department decided to take action after "unfortunate incidents occurred in the park."

"With more visibility in an incident, you are more likely to be seen," he added. In addition, he said the work will also protect parkgoers from falling branches, which have been a problem across upper Manhattan since Hurricane Irene.

Local residents have been calling for increased safety measures at the parks after repeated incidents of violence and burglary over the past few years, including two in December 2011.

On Dec. 15, a man was on his way to a Christmas tree lighting in Isham Park when he was jumped by a group of teens who took his iPhone. Two days earlier, a family thwarted muggers on the edge of the park who tried to rob them with an L-shaped piece of plastic.

Law enforcement and elected officials have said crime in the parks is exacerbated by the limited visibility and seclusion parks offer would-be attackers.

But some residents dismissed the tree-cutting initiative as extreme and misguided.

"I know we have had a habitual problem with crime in the park. But shouldn't the answer be more beat cops, better lighting, or even cameras?" asked Jon O'Neil, who has lived in Inwood for 35 years. "Why does the city go right to chopping down trees for safety?"

The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.

"It's a horror show out here," Inwood resident Elena Perez said as she watched 6- to 8-foot chunks of trees crash down on the Isham Park lawn Thursday morning.

"I want to feel safe, but the trees aren't even sick. If you look at the bark, they aren't hollow or anything. Why would they do this?"

Although Inwood resident Cristobal Vivar said safety is of concern to him and his wife as they raise their 2-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter near the park, he believes the removal of the trees had more to do with concern over lawsuits than public safety. 

When he heard the sounds of chainsaws in Isham Park outside his apartment window Monday, he initially thought the department was trimming a few loose or damaged branches. 

But when he saw the amount of trees being taken down, he began to have second thoughts.  

“I first told my daughter they were doing something for the trees so they grow better, but I didn’t believe it, because it was too much,” he said. 

Workers are slated to continue removing trees until Saturday throughout the parks, which were littered with dismembered tree limbs and chipped wood piles on a recent visit, park officials said.

The Parks Department said it was also tending to several diseased and damaged trees that local volunteer gardeners had voiced concern over for the past several years.

Abramson noted that an inspection of the trees "confirmed that they were hollowed out, split or suffered severe damages from recent storms."

Although the tree-cutting in both parks stirred many emotions in the neighborhood, several volunteer gardeners said the work was unavoidable. 

"This is massive and I knew it was going to create a lot of unhappiness, but the truth is that there is a lot of damage and disease and not all of it is easy to detect when you just look at it," said Pat Courtney, an organizer for Volunteers for Isham Park, which cares for the park.

"It's like a member of the family dying when you see a tree go down, no matter the condition it was in you are going to be upset," she added. "But we have to realize that the landscape is always in the process of renewal and destruction. It is inevitable."