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Astoria Park Visitors Should be Able to Walk Right Up to Shore, Group Says

 The Hell Gate Bridge viewed from Astoria Park.
The Hell Gate Bridge viewed from Astoria Park.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

DITMARS — Historical images of Astoria Park show visitors frolicking along its rocky shore before a concrete seawall cut off access in the 1920s.

Today, parkgoers are still just as eager to walk on the beaches, sometimes even climbing a railing on the elevated sidewalk on the seawall along Shore Boulevard, according to the Astoria Park Alliance, a group advocating for improvements to the green space.

"I see parents physically lowering their children over that rail because they want to get to the water, they want to explore," said the group's chair Martha Lopez-Gilpin.

"How do we create safe access so that people don’t have to do dangerous things to get down there, especially children?"

The alliance is hoping waterfront access will be a priority in the city's plan to do a $30 million renovation of Astoria Park in the next few years, but they're also still trying to figure out the safest way to do it.

For instance, they're not sure whether opening up the shorefront should include activities like kayaking since the currents near Astoria Park and the Hell Gate Bridge are known for being especially turbulent.

"Of course the first thing to consider is safety," Lopez-Gilpin said.

The group has looked to other waterfront city parks for inspiration, tweeting a picture earlier this month of Pebble Beach in Brooklyn Bridge Park where a series of sloping steps lead visitors down to the water.

"We're kind of looking at all kinds of models," she said. "We know it has been done.

"The park was created so people could have access to the waterfront."

She said the time is ripe to open up a discussion about how to do that, in light of $30 million in city money that has been allotted for the park.

In August, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new program to spend $150 million on major improvements to "anchor parks" — ones that are within walking distance of 750,000 residents — in each borough.

"This is the biggest endowment we're going to have for some time, for sure," she said.

In a statement, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said the Parks Department is "thankful" for the Alliance's active role in coming up with ideas for the park.

"We share their interest in taking advantage of Astoria's prime location along the waterfront," she said.

Officials will be taking the group's suggestions and other public feedback into account when coming up with a plan for how to spend funding, she said. 

A scoping meeting held in the neighborhood on Nov. 16 drew more than 200 people, she added.

The Parks Department will report back to the community sometime this winter with a "conceptual design" for the park, according to Lewandowski.

Members of the community also have until Dec. 1 to submit their ideas for Astoria Park improvements, and can do so through the Parks Department's website.