By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Residents of Bay Ridge who enjoy strolling through Shore Road Park or sitting on a park bench enjoying the breathtaking view of New York harbor might not realize it, but they have a dedicated group of their fellow citizens to thank for the pristine condition of the bucolic oasis.
The Shore Road Parks Conservancy, an all volunteer group, plants flowers, pulls out weeds, rakes leaves, cuts grass, clears away litter and generally serves as a caretaker for all of the city parkland hugging the shoreline of Bay Ridge, from 101st Street all the way to 67th Street.
And they’ve been doing it for more than 10 years.
“We just want people to enjoy the beauty of our parks. To be able to sit on a bench, or relax under the shade of a tree, is to enjoy life. We want that for people,” conservancy founder Linda Allegretti told the Brooklyn Eagle in a phone interview on May 5.
Charles Fasano, headmaster of Bay Ridge Preparatory School, is the group’s current president.
In addition to Shore Road Park, the parks that fall under the conservancy’s mission statement include Owl’s Head Park on 68th Street, Narrows Botanical Gardens on 69th Street and John Paul Jones Park on 101st Street.
“We cover a wide area, but we do our best to keep it all looking great,” said Allegretti, who added that the conservancy receives a great deal of help and support from the New York City Parks Department. Over the years, Allegretti has been on a first name basis with several city parks commissioners.
The group, which subsists on donations and grants, conducts periodic cleanups of the parks. Armies of volunteers invade the park with rakes, trash bags, and gloves to pick up the trash and take it away. The volunteers come from the conservancy’s ranks and from outside groups, such as schools and businesses.
On April 16, the conservancy sponsored its first major clean-up of the 2014 season as an energetic and ambitious group of volunteers from National Grid came to the park and feverishly worked from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. removing dead trees and weeds, hauling logs and placing them along the hillside for erosion prevention.
The conservancy will host its second major clean-up of the spring season on May 9, as 30 students from Poly Prep County Day School will work with 30 volunteers from the Mayor's Community Group of Special Needs Children to plant flowers along the hillside at 90th Street and Shore Road starting at 10 a.m. The flowers are being donated by Shannon Florist. Foodtown supermarket has agreed to supply snacks for the volunteers
But cleanups aren’t the only part of the conservancy’s work.
The environmental group also sponsors fun-filled events in the parks, such as the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremonies in Shore Road Park and Owl’s Head Park. Both events feature concerts by singers performing Christmas carols, hot chocolate, and a visit from Santa Claus. The Shore Road Park Christmas tree is placed every year in a gazebo in Michael Behlen Circle, a terrace on 90th Street overlooking the park and the waterfront named after a Bay Ridge community leader who died of cancer a decade ago.
There was a piano in Shore Road Park near Michael Behlen Circle in the summer of 2012, thanks to the conservancy’s participation in the Sing for Hope Pianos program, in which a non-profit group put 88 pianos in various locations around the city, including parks and schools, and asked local residents to come and play. The number of pianos was set at 88 because that’s how many keys there are on a piano. The program took place during the summers of 2012 and 2013.
The Huffington Post reported in 2013 that pianos could be found in all sorts of places, including Times Square, Central Park, the Rockaways and Staten Island.
The goal of the Sing for Hope Pianos program is to bring the enjoyment of music to the masses. Allegretti said the conservancy wanted to take part in the project because it fit in with the group’s overall mission to help every day residents get the most out of their local parks.
“We got a baby grand piano. And the people who live here really took good care of it. They watched that piano as if it was in their living room,” Allegretti said.
The piano was the centerpiece of seven concerts in the park throughout that summer.
Allegretti said the idea for the conservancy’s participation came from member longtime June Marcus. Marcus heard about the program and emailed Allegretti a link to an article about the program.
The Shore Road Parks Conservancy began life as the Shore Road Garden Council. The council was founded in 2002 by Allegretti, at the behest of then-councilman Marty Golden. “I walked into Marty’s office because I was disgusted with the condition of the park in front of my house. There was trash and overgrown weeds everywhere. I told Marty, ‘You can’t even walk through the park!’ He said, ‘Do you want to do something about it?’ When I told him yes, he said, ‘Good, let’s start a group. You’ll be in charge of it.’ That’s how we started,” Allegretti said.
Allegretti founded the group with Joe Grant, a fellow Bay Ridge resident. Within a few years, the garden council grew and became the conservancy.