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Local Green Thumb Wants To Revive DeWitt Clinton Park

By Mathew Katz | May 21, 2012 7:24am
David Winterton, 46, wants to revive the DeWitt Clinton Park Conservancy.
David Winterton, 46, wants to revive the DeWitt Clinton Park Conservancy.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

HELL'S KITCHEN — To David Winterton, DeWitt Clinton Park represents the potential of Hell's Kitchen.

Surrounded by car dealerships, studios for "The Daily Show" and Larry Flint's Hustler Club, Winterton has cultivated a stunning rose garden on the park's northeast edge.

Along with his gardening partner Adam Taylor, he took it over from the garden's former custodian five years ago and has transformed it into 50-yard-long lush column of perennials, shady trees and even patches of rosemary and basil.

The garden is now the talk of the park, and even has its own Facebook page — with 76 fans and a continually updated photo gallery.

As more affluence comes to the neighborhood, Winterton, 46, wants to extend his idea of urban-pastoral splendor to cover all of the oft-neglected 5.8-acre park at West 52nd Street and 11th Avenue.

"With all the residential development around here, it's just a matter of time," he said while touring the park on Thursday.

"This is the single big park of Hell's Kitchen. This could be the one."

Winterton, an architect, has begun a push to revive the park's dormant conservancy, hoping to bring attention, volunteers and much-needed dollars to the neighborhood's park.

Just a handful of volunteers now tend to the community gardens, though not everyone has the time to dote on their portion like Winterton does. Across the park, someone else's garden has been reclaimed by wild plants and vines, and wilting tulips.

The DeWitt Clinton Park Conservancy could raise cash to recruit volunteers and give them the tools and time they need to revitalize some of the park's wilder areas, he said.

And then there's the stairs — a pair of vine-covered, crumbling bluestone steps on the park's two western corners that have been closed for years. Winterson said by fixing them, the park would fluidly connect the neighborhood to the Hudson River.

"Fixing these is my most immediate goal," he said. "From an urban planning point of view, that connection makes sense to me."

Winterton has been in contact with the Parks Department, and a representative there told him that the project has been on its "wish list" for years. Fixing up both sets of steps would cost roughly $1.5 million — which Winterton admits is an exceptional amount of money.

"There's erosion, it's unstable, but if we do this, the park can be improved dramatically," he said.

According to the Parks Department, another option would be to demolish them and cover them with soil for more planting.

Sylvia Schumie, 39, often walks her dogs in both Dewitt Clinton Park and the nearby Hudson River Park. Repairing the stairs, she said, would make those walks easier.

"The city has the money for it, I bet," she said. "Why not spend it to help people?"

Nearby, Omar Elmari, 17, wasn't convinced.

"We've already got a playground and a baseball field here," he said. "I could use that money. So could my family."

Philip Abramson, a spokesman for the Parks Department, said that it would support additional community interest.

"The DeWitt Clinton Park Conservancy was an umbrella organization, uniting other groups of volunteers that helped out in the park, but it has recently been dormant," he said in a statement.

"While there are still some active volunteers in the park, we welcome any additional community interest in reviving this organization and our Partnerships for Parks division will gladly work with them to once again unify volunteer efforts in the park."

Winterton plans to lobby elected officials and city organizations, starting with Community Board 4, in an effort to bring the conservancy back and build the park into something worthy of the neighborhood Hell's Kitchen is becoming.

After surveying some of the more untamed areas of the park, Winterton was firmer in his resolve to improve it — and maybe even keep a bit of the gardens' wild edge.

"Our goal is, ultimately, improving DeWitt Clinton Park to be the great neighbourhood park it deserves to be," he said.

"It doesn’t have to be fully manicured or anything but as of right now, it looks ignored."