A park erected on an old landfill in the Soundview section of the Bronx attracted diverse volunteers to revitalize its garden during the event “It’s My Park Day” on Sunday.
Volunteers worked from late morning to early afternoon planting daffodils to attract butterflies and clearing out tall, dense shrubbery to reveal a view of the Bronx River from the Butterfly/Meditation Garden at Soundview Park. The Friends of Soundview Park, supported by Partnership for Parks, coordinated the event.
The lush, maintained green space that volunteers visited on Sunday was recently reborn after a neglected past.
“It was a dump” with a “dangerous reputation,” said Lucy Aponte, a longtime Bronx resident and current president of the Friends group. Aponte was speaking literally as well as figuratively. The park operated as a landfill from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Soundview Park’s trashy history is to be thanked for the far-reaching views it now offers; its landfill days raised the shoreline 30 feet above the marsh elevation. Its potential as a thriving waterfront park came to fruition in 2010 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Parks Foundation’s Catalyst Program, which aims to renovate parks in underserved areas.
With the imminent departure of Catalyst workers at the end of the year, the park’s management will be turned over to Friends of Soundview Park, a local volunteer group. Although the park has come a long way during the four years of Catalyst attention, the Friends group inherits some tough challenges.
A vital task for the Friends group is to increase visitors to the park. From the beginning, Catalyst’s Park Coordinator for Waterfront Activity, Carlos Martinez, had difficulty building interest in the park among nearby residents.
Events, like “It’s My Park Day,” have the double advantage of revitalizing the park and drawing visitors.
Luz Quezada, 48, a former Bronx resident now residing in Manhattan, found out about Soundview Park’s event through the nonprofit Fiadasec Federacion Internacional, a community–minded organization based in the Dominican Republic with a branch in New York City.
A first–time visitor to Soundview Park, Quezada said she thought the event was an “awesome way to create conversation about environmental issues with children.” She brought her seventh grade daughter Raymi to help plant daffodil bulbs.
Quezeda said she “never knew this park existed” and was “very amazed” by the park’s beauty. She said she and her family would be back soon to revisit the waterfront greenway.
Four years ago, Community Board 9 expressed concernes about the Catalyst Program’s goal of activating the space and bringing more people to such a large park, skeptical that Soundview Park could change its reputation as a dangerous area, Martinez recalled.
Today, with a new chairman in charge, the community board still has not thoroughly embraced the project. Chairman William Rivera “hasn’t talked to the friends group” yet, he said, and he expressed concerns over noise levels caused by sports leagues and barbeque parties in the park. Rivera said he is open to addressing his qualms with the Friends and hopes to establish a connection soon.
The two newest members of the Friends group are working hard to engage the community in the park’s activities by shooting a video.
Brothers Mohamed Kaba, 18, and Mamadou Kaba, 16, hope their video, which includes interviews with park attendees and shots of the park’s views, will “get people to want to donate and help,” Mamadou said.
Mohamed took classes at his high school on videography and will post the finished version on the NYC Park’s website page and Facebook page. The brothers’ plan to include old photographs so that viewers can see how drastically the park has changed.
The Kaba brothers interviewed Wanda Diaz, 23, who found out about Soundview Park’s “It’s My Park Day,” from a flier during a class trip to Poe Park in the Bronx. She said she enjoyed the event and would take part in further activities.
To help fund the activities the park hosts, the Friends will take a page out of the Catalyst program’s book and reach out to the Bronx River Alliance, which provides contacts with corporations.
Last month’s “International Coastal Clean-up” at the park was sponsored by the outdoor retailer R.E.I. and “It’s My Park Day” was sponsored by TD Bank. The corporations not only provide money for tools and supplies, but also give out T-shirts and reusable bags.
Jaime Feliberty, 59, the Friends member in charge of “It’s My Park Day,” said Carlos Martinez, the Catalyst worker, taught their group how to organize themselves to be efficient. He “feels terrible” about Martinez’s departure, and joked that he is “going to tie him up so he doesn’t leave.”
Even though Feliberty said there is still much to learn about taking charge of the park’s activities, he noted that the Friends group has a good team of people, including artists Laura Alvarez and Lucy Aponte.
Martinez said that the Friends group would continue to receive advisory support from a Partnership for Parks Borough Coordinator. He also said that he would be available for Friends members to contact for help, even as he heads to the next “Catalyst Park,” Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem.
The launch into Soundview Park’s future was secured by the Catalyst Program. The park is now poised to enter a new era. The park itself is thriving, with an improved “greenway,” a path that hugs the shoreline and connects waterfront towns, and with coming attractions like an amphitheater, which will provide a venue for local performers, an extensive wetlands area, which will allow the native ecology to flourish, and a dog park.
In addition to managing events and recruiting members, the Friends of Soundview Park must widen their outreach to promote their park’s new track, playgrounds, greenways, and gardens. Transforming from a desolate dump to a picturesque park, Soundview Park is poised for an influx of visitors.