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'Shady Park' Reopens for the First Time Since Hurricane Sandy

HUNTERS POINT — Andrews Grove Playground, affectionately known by locals as "Shady Park," reopened this weekend for the first time since Hurricane Sandy struck seven weeks ago.

The storm toppled half a dozen trees at the local playground, which got its nickname for the number of tall trees that provided a canopy of shade. The beloved park had been shuttered for clean-up and repairs until Saturday.

Though half of the park and its play equipment is still damaged and remain fenced off, the other half is now open to the public, to the relief of children and families who say they come to the 49th Avenue site almost daily.

"These kids just live for this park," said Liz Picca, 62, who grew up on the block and now takes her two granddaughters, Victoria, 6, and Valentina, 2, to the playground frequently.

"It had become the center of these kids' lives," she said. "They were just devastated."

After the storm, neighbors formed the group "Friends of Shady Park," to help assist in the rebuilding effort, and set up a Facebook page, which now has more than 200 followers. The group's main goal is plant new trees to replace those that were downed during the storm.

They're hoping to get mature trees that are tall enough to cast the kind of shade that gave the playground its nickname.

"Right now we're meeting to decide about fundraising for the bigger trees," said Dr. Moitri Savard, a member of the group who lives nearby and frequents the park with her young son and daughter. "They love this park. It's hour and hours of entertainment."

On Friday, the group joined local elected officials and members of the city Parks Department to host a clean-up, raking and sweeping leaves and debris and hanging pine branches along the playground's fence. They erected a holiday tree in the center — now the only tree standing in the park — which a group of local children adorned with ornaments.

"Everyone here has been heartbroken since Sandy at the loss of this park," said Sheila Lewandowski, who lives across the street. "Shady Park is a very special park to this community."

Joe Block, a coordinator with the city's Partnership for Parks, said the damaged half of the park will remain closed until further repairs are made, including fixing its fencing and repaving portions of the asphalt where trees were uprooted. Planting won't begin until spring, at the earliest.

Maryam, a neighbor who declined to give her last name but said she's a regular at Andrews Grove, said the space just won't be the same this summer if its stately trees are missing.

"It's the only place we could come and get some relief from the sun," she said.