YORKTOWN, N.Y. - One of Yorktown’s parks got some tender love and care last week after residents and a political hopeful rattled cages in the form of social media posts and a television news broadcast.
Touring the overgrown Blackberry Woods Park with a reporter from News 12, Republican town supervisor candidate Matt Slater criticized the current administration for allowing such conditions to exist.
A day after the report aired, the Marcy Street park had been landscaped and cleaned by the town’s Parks and Recreation Department. Earlier in the week, a Facebook post showing conditions of the park received dozens of comments from frustrated residents.
“It shouldn’t get to this point,” Slater told Yorktown News. “Obviously, there’s no plan. This should be done earlier in the season. People want to use their parks.”
Supervisor Ilan Gilbert, though, said his administration does have a plan for repairing town parks and prepping them for the summer season. However, he said, the Parks and Recreation Department is behind schedule because of ongoing construction at the new Granite Knolls Sports Complex, which has occupied much of the town’s time and money.
“We are in the process of completing our newest and largest sport facility, consisting of 15 acres of active sports complex with three fields, basketball, handball courts, pickleball courts, pavilion and restrooms,” Gilbert said of the nearly $6 million facility.
The weather, Gilbert said, has also not been kind.
“We have a schedule for preparing our facilities for the season but, of course, this has been adversely affected by the unusual amount of rain this season,” Gilbert said.
The supervisor also pointed out that the town is responsible for maintaining 31 parks, “including two pool complexes consisting of seven different pools, 16 playgrounds, 12 tennis courts and has responsibility for an additional 20 properties.”
In addition to full- and part-time employees, seasonal workers help maintain the parks in the summer. Now that they have reported for duty, Gilbert said, “We are accelerating the rate of preparing our facilities for use by our residents.”
But Slater called the condition of town parks inexcusable. For example, he said, construction equipment and materials are being stored on unusable tennis courts at Shrub Oak Park and Downing Park.
“It starts with management. It starts with having a plan,” Slater said. “It falls squarely on the supervisor’s shoulders.”
Before looking into hiring more parks employees, Slater said, he would order a full inventory of the town’s parks to determine what work is needed and in what order. The town’s website should also have an interactive map of its parks, letting residents know what equipment a park has and where they can park their cars, he said.
The town should also be more transparent about planned improvements to its parks, Slater said. Residents should at least know the town is aware of issues and has plans to fix them, even if the repairs may take years to complete.
Gilbert, however, said Slater is proposing ideas that are already being done.
“We have inspected our facilities, including a pool complex that was damaged by vandals (Shrub Oak Park), and have completed our survey of work to be completed and have gotten estimates for required materials,” Gilbert said.
Slater’s criticism didn’t end with the condition of the parks. He said residents have also expressed concern to him about what the town is using to control weed growth.
“Are [kids] playing in Roundup or are they playing in something else?” Slater asked.
The Parks and Recreation Department has since clarified it does not use chemicals, but rather an “organic-based solution.”
“We apply natural citrus oil commonly found in the citrus peels of oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruits,” the department said in a statement provided by Gilbert’s office.
“The use of citrus oil on weeds is applied in small amounts or spot applications. The product is a safe, fast acting, effective approach to controlling weeds and the department only schedules an application on a case-by-case basis.”
Still, Slater said, neighborhood residents should be notified about when the department plans to use this mixture in their parks.
“It’s an issue of transparency,” Slater said.