By Paul McCaffrey
CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
Evidence of the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought in Prospect Park lingers as weathered tree stumps await removal and yellow police tape rings drooping trees.
But as the once near constant hum of chainsaws and the smell of sawdust begin to give way to early signs of spring, the 568-acre park is readying to turn the page on the catastrophic storm.
“We have found it takes us about six months to clean up after a storm of that magnitude, though there will be long-lasting effects in some of the natural areas that were heavily affected,” said Anne Wong, director of landscape management for the Prospect Park Alliance.
“Even though we have lost so many trees to storms over the past several years, I’m always impressed that the park still basically feels the same,” she said.
Sandy left a “stunning mess,” in Wong’s words, toppling more than 500 trees, some dating as far back as the park’s opening in 1867. The storm also brought down or damaged 1,000 large branches.
More than 500 park staff and volunteers teamed with city, state and federal workers to haul away 3.8 million pounds – or 7,000 cubic yards worth – of Sandy-related debris.
“It was just trees down everywhere, debris everywhere,” said Fred Meyer, who walks his dog in the park everyday and was among the volunteer cleanup crew. “It made you look up and hope the trees wouldn’t fall on you.”
Some varieties of trees suffered worse than others, with old oak trees, Norway Maples and linden trees among the casualties.
A massive oak tree fell onto the Lincoln Road Playground, crushing the jungle gym and surrounding fences and light poles. After more than $100,000 worth of Sandy-related repairs, the playground reopened January 12.
“I’ve lived near Prospect Park for 40 years, and you had a landscape that had a very different appearance,” said avid birdwatcher Neal Frumkin.
Most of Prospect Park is now usable, even if not everything is back to pre-Sandy conditions. Many stumps still need to be ground down and carted off, and sections hard hit by the storm will take years to recover.
“Several woodland areas are completely opened up and will require a lot of replanting and management for invasive plants,” Wong said. “The forest will also look different with a lot more downed wood. “
Still, park patrons said they appreciated the post-Sandy progress, and applauded the crews who worked 12-hour shifts, using front-end loaders and dump truck to clear massive mounds of debris.
“All in all, I think they’ve done a decent job,” Brooklyn native Dennis Burge said, as he walked his dog on a recent weekday afternoon.
He wasn’t that impressed by the scale of the damage, however. “I grew up in the ’70s during the crack wars,” Burge said. “It wasn’t devastating to me.”
As Meyer strolled with his dog on a brisk March afternoon, he said he looked forward to enjoying the park in spring. “I would say we’re ready for the trees to bloom,” he said.