Preservationists call the Ridgewood Reservoir an environmental gem in New York City.
However, development plans to spruce up the over 50-acre site have reservoir advocates concerned that planned changes might transform the lush wilderness into an unrecognizable landscape.
Located in Highland Park, which covers land in the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood and the Brooklyn neighborhood of Cypress Hills, the Ridgewood Reservoir is one of a handful of reservoirs remaining in New York City. Other reservoirs in the city are the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Manhattan's Central Park, the Jerome Park Reservoir in the Bronx, and the Silver Lake reservoir in Staten Island.
You feel like you're not in New York City, said Gary Comorau, president of the Highland Park Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, an advocacy group that promotes the reservoir.
The area has been left alone in recent years, but that changed in April when the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation started developing the land. The first phase of the project will cost taxpayers $7.6 million and is expected to be completed in the spring of 2012, according to department spokeswoman Patricia Bertuccio and the department Web site.
The initial changes are meant to spruce up the area and make it more accessible to the public. This includes fixing surrounding pathways and installing a ramp.
Invasive species that are compromising the infrastructure and threatening the delicate biodiversity of the Reservoir basins will be removed, Bertuccio wrote in an email.
While these changes are welcome, others have been met with criticism.
One point of contention is a new perimeter four-foot tall steel bar fence, shorter than the current chain link fence. Some residents believe the new fence will not be enough to protect the area.
There have been times in the past where people have jumped the fence and were up to no good or cut the fence and were up to no good, Queens Community Board 5 Parks Committee chairperson Gary Giordano told IB Times. I mean, I'm over 50 and I could do it no problem, he said of going over the new fence. You make an investment of that size and you want to protect it.
Comorau echoed this sentiment, noting that two of the three basins have already made for popular paintball locations.
That's very destructive to the environment, he said.
Reservoir advocates expressed concern about what will happen after the first phase. The next phase of the project remains in the design stage, according to Bertuccio, as the Parks department is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the city's Department of Environmental Protection. She noted that because of post-Hurricane Katrina regulations, further hydrology studies are required.
Future development of the basins will be based on the findings and interpretation of the hydrologic studies, Bertuccio wrote.
Locals worry that plant life in the basins will be wiped out during future developments.
Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society in Ridgewood, remembers hearing about the Ridgewood Reservoir from older locals. The New York native saw the reservoir for the first time in 2007 when she participated in a breeding bird survey with other volunteers.
We descended into the third basin and walked around fields and forest, Wilkinson told IB Times in an email. I saw fascinating plants and insects that I have never seen before and I knew at that moment that it needed to be preserved.
Like other reservoir enthusiasts, she wants the area to be accessible to the public, but believes that changes should only go so far.
The Ridgewood Reservoir has evolved into three distinct ecosystems that should be accessible to the public but be left in their natural states, Wilkinson said. There is no need to remove the flora and fauna that have found a home in the reservoir basins.
Keeping it Natural
Reservoir advocates recently sent a proposal that suggested two sections of the Ridgewood Reservoir be classified as wetlands, which would incur stricter regulations for development. Comorau noted that the Highland Park Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance sent the request to the Department of Environmental Conservation.
The question from day one has been 'are these basins, in fact, wetlands?' Comorau said, adding We think they should be classified as wetlands. If the Ridgewood Reservoir does qualify, he said, that should limit what the city can do to the basins.
According to a 2010 NYC Department of City Planning land use chart, Brooklyn has 13,182 acres of open space, the most of the NYC boroughs. This acreage makes up 34.5 percent of the borough. Queens has 10,968 acres of open space, according to the Planning chart, making up for 20.6 percent of the borough.
Reservoir supporters also see the reservoir as an educational opportunity to teach New Yorkers a thing or two about nature.
The reservoir is a site that can be used to teach urban residents about the natural world as well as the history of the Brooklyn Water Works, Wilkinson said in an email.
The Parks department seems to be on board with this. Bertuccio wrote that other developments in the area may include interpretive and educational signage to relay the Reservoir's rich natural history, wildlife and plant life.