Highland Park is the nearest large park to where I live – about a 10 minute bike ride. Of course, that’s a bike ride down a particularly bleak stretch of Bushwick Avenue, where the Jackie Robinson Parkway disgorges, and the businesses are all auto-related — gas stations, car lots, repair shops — interspersed with large MTA complexes. From Bushwick Avenue it’s a hair-raising turn onto Highland Avenue, against car drivers who are already in a throughway mindset.
But when I finally get there, Highland Park is a always a huge relief. To be sure, it’s a bit down-on-the heels, especially compared to similar parks in wealthy neighborhoods. But the ball fields and basketball fields are usually in full use; families are picnicking; lovers are strolling.
Ridgewood Reservoir is basically contiguous to Highland — I can’t determine if it’s technically part of the park or not. There’s a struggle happening on whether to turn it into ballfields or preserve it in it’s now feral state. Apparently, it’s one of the few birch forests on Long Island and is something of a de facto bird sanctuary. Save Ridgewood Reservoir is a terrific activist blog that is well written, well researched, and very, very passionate. I don’t know where I come down on the basic issue. When I was there last evening around 7:00, there were dozens of people jogging, walking, and biking around the reservoir perimeter path. All the adjoining ball fields were in full use. Clearly there’s a demand for more playing fields during peak weekend and evening hours. Most of the area is fenced off to the public, perhaps for good safety and conservation reasons, but still, it’s fenced off. And the surrounding forest and wetlands are extremely degraded – lots of invasive weed species like ailanthus and phragmites. If it’s going to be a true sanctuary, it will take investment. Ultimately, this is not really a matter of leaving it alone.