Occupation: President of the Prospect Park Alliance.
You've been Prospect Park's administrator for the past 25 years (!). Tell us about some of the big changes the park has undergone.
The biggest change is that people are back in the Park. When I became Prospect Park’s first administrator in 1980, what was most sorely missing from Prospect Park was people --- people from every neighborhood who enjoyed coming to the Park, who felt comfortable in the Park, cared about it and would give of their time and energy to helping their Park. We established a Community Committee ten years ago that has grown to include representatives of more than 75 groups and each year more than 5,000 people volunteer their time to help the Park.
So many of the Park’s natural features such as the Woodlands, which is the only forest left in Brooklyn, and the watercourse of the Ravine, have been restored. Hundreds of people contributed to this massive effort, including the Prospect Park Alliance's Natural Resources Crew, the Youth Council's Woodlands Crew and many volunteers.
The first capital project the Alliance tackled was the restoration of the Park’s historic Carousel in 1990. Since then most of the Park’s playgrounds have been redone and we completely rebuilt the historic ballfields of the Parade Ground. The gorgeous, 100-year-old beaux-arts Boathouse reopened in 2002 after renovations as the first urban Audubon Center.
What is the Prospect Park Alliance's relationship with the Parks Department? Is it like the relationship with the Parks Department has with the Central Park Conservancy?
The Alliance was formed in 1987 as a Public-Private partnership with the City of New York. We raise money so that the Park has a Natural Resources Crew to keep it looking wonderful. Plus we take care of the Parade Ground and run many of the Park concessions. Unlike the Central Park Conservancy, we don’t have a maintenance contract with the City. Because I am dually the Park Administrator, reporting to the Parks Commissioner, and the President of the Prospect Park Alliance, it’s a seamless relationship. The Parks Commissioner serves on the Alliance Board and the Mayor has two appointees.
One of the most infamous incidents is the 1987 incident when an 11 year old boy was mauled by polar bears at the Prospect Park Zoo. How did the zoo recover?
That was the worst tragedy in my 25 years at the Park. At the time we were already in the process of planning to renovate the Zoo because we knew it could be so much better. When it was closed for remodeling, all the large animals were removed. The Wildlife Conservation Society now manages it fabulously and it entertains and educates so many children each year. We work closely with them to coordinate programs, such as their Boo at the Zoo event during our Haunted Halloween Walk and Carnival.
Even though crime has dropped dramatically, there are still some incidents here and there in the park. How does the Prospect Park Alliance work with the NYPD? And what can parkgoers do?
In the past it was almost so expected that there would be crime in the Park that the media didn’t even report it. The Police Department and the Parks Department work closely together to make the Park safer and we have significant Police. During the summer the Auxiliary Police log something close to 30,000 patrol hours. The police are very sensitive to the community’s need to feel safe in the Park. We also have installed an extensive signage system in the Park to help people find their way around. And all the programming we do – events such as the Halloween Walk, the nature programs run out of the Audubon Center, the volunteer groups – this has lead to a dramatic increase in the number of people who come to the Park (8 million today verses 2 million in 1980).
One of our favorite things about Prospect Park is seeing the dogs frolic leash-free in the morning. What is an initiative you're particularly proud of?
The creation of the Prospect Park Alliance is definitely the initiative I am most proud of. Now there’s a group of community and business people who advocate and fight for the Park. That means it should never slip back into the state it was 25 years ago.
I love seeing the dogs out there too! Not long after I started as Park Administrator, a group of dog owners came to me complaining about people getting tickets for having their dogs off leash. So we worked with the Parks Department to change the policy so that dogs run without a leash from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. every day in certain areas. Because of that, more people started coming to the Park, which made the joggers feel safer, which made parents with kids feel safer and it snowballed on from there. The dog owners group FIDO is great about helping enforce the rules, and we of course have a great dog beach – where we even allow the dogs to go skinny-dipping!
What are some exciting Prospect Park developments for the future?
The new Lakeside Center will really be a link between the Park’s past and future. The current Wollman Rink, built in 1960, is very popular as a place for skating but it’s falling apart and our maintenance people are practically using band-aids to keep it together. Architecturally it’s nothing to get excited about and it intrudes upon the vista of the lake Olmsted and Vaux had originally planned. So not only will a new building give us an even better skating facility, but the Alliance’s Office of Design and Construction is working with the architects to create a design that makes the most of this beautiful location.
And this weekend is the Halloween Walk and Carnival. What are you dressing up as?
A good witch. A few years ago a woman with a child pointed to me and said to her daughter, “Look, that’s the same witch that used to be here when I was a kid.” So I guess after 25 years of dressing up I don’t need to use much makeup!
What is your favorite thing about Prospect Park? What is a part of the park you think more people should know about?
I love walking through the Ravine and coming out onto the Nethermead. It’s such a lovely open meadow surrounded by so many trees, including the ones I planted (we have a commemorative tree program) for each of my parents and a dogwood for my dog! People should spend more time discovering the Midwoods, the Lullwater and the Peninsula that reaches out into Brooklyn’s only lake. Right now we’re getting ready to open these three new nature trails that will be a perfect way to discover more of the Park.
After Prospect Park, what is your favorite New York City park?
Are there other Parks in New York?
What's your favorite subway line?
The Q, because it takes you near to the entrance to the Park’s Audubon Center and it it is really a fast ride from Manhattan. And I like the F because it comes out from underground as it crosses the Gowanus. It’s funny you ask about subway lines, because we even modeled the directional paths on our maps and on signs for navigating through the Park on the colored lines of New York subway maps.
The Prospect Park Haunted Walk and Haunted Carnival is on Saturday, October 29, 2005, between 12 abd 3 p.m. Enter the Park at the Prospect Park Southwest and 16th Street entrance. For general information on Prospect Park, call the Park Hotline at (718) 965-8999 or visit www.prospectpark.org.
Photographs of Tupper Thomas (2) and the Audobon Center are from the Prospect Park Archives