Belle Harbor — Changing faces, peaceful places

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article originally appeared in the Queens Chronicle on June 12, 2008. This content is the rightful property of the Queens Chronicle. Photos were not immediately available.]

The brackish smell rising from the salt marshes of Jamaica Bay wafts over the Cross Bay Bridge and right into the nostrils as one heads south of mainland Queens for a visit in Belle Harbor — one of the most immaculate and tranquil neighborhoods on the Rockaway Peninsula.

Turning onto Beach Channel Drive in the direction of Beach 125th Street — the eastern border of the small, 17-block community — one can see people lined up along the seawall overlooking the Rockaway Inlet, continuously dropping and retrieving fishing lines.

Along the seemingly wide streets of Belle Harbor — made so because of parking regulations that prohibit street parking on weekends and holidays from May 15 to Sept. 30 — children play, couples ride by on bicycles and families stroll lazily in the shade of large, weeping beech trees and looming sycamores.

Out with the old, in with the new

A number of families are part of a wave of newcomers that has engulfed the neighborhood in the last seven or so years — a wave that has managed to bring a fresh quality to the area without changing its dynamic. Younger professionals, mostly upper-middle class with young children, have moved in and replaced the older generation of Belle Harborites, who have moved to neighboring Neponsit, according to the owner of Belle Harbor Realty, Annette Farina.

In her 21 years in the realty business, Farina has witnessed one major change: whereas about two decades ago, people were mostly renting space, today, they’re buying single-family homes that can run from $795,000 to $1 million.

Many of these families come from Brooklyn and parts of Manhattan that have become unaffordable. The appeal of the “hidden treasure” that is Belle Harbor is mostly that it combines affordability and refinement, Farina said. Those leaving Park Slope in Brooklyn or areas like it don’t have to downgrade in order to save some money. They can find the comforts of security and recreation in Belle Harbor.

A main attraction of the neighborhood is its easy access to Rockaway Beach and Jacob Riis Park — which has a large, well-used parking lot for commuters traveling to Brooklyn or Manhattan by car or ferry. In general, the lifestyle afforded by coastal living is desirable because it removes the element of constant stress that sometimes accompanies city life, said Jonathan Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14.

When mentioned, New York City often conjures up images of fast-walking, fast-talking workaholics who don’t know their neighbors and consider themselves just a face in the crowd of millions milling about the concrete jungle.

This stereotype might be a gross exaggeration, but it is rooted in some truth: many New Yorkers live work-centric lives. But, like life in most beach towns, Belle Harbor living is calm, family centric and community oriented, making this neighborhood the perfect escape.

Selecting superior schools

The real clincher for many newcomers, Farina said, is the quality of Belle Harbor’s schools. Like most young couples starting families, those moving to this neighborhood are thinking about their children’s education and looking to the future; making investments in Belle Harbor property seems to be a smart move in the right direction.

Schools are usually the deciding factor for people trying to relocate: they are an indication of a neighborhood’s quality, Gaska said. “They usually go hand in hand — good schools, and certainly good public schools, keep property values up.”

Belle Harbor is said to possess most of the traits young, well-to-do families look for, from big lawns to quiet neighbors to, most importantly, high-quality schools. This is why, Gaska said, “Belle Harbor is considered one of the premier neighborhoods in the borough.”

The Belle Harbor public elementary school, P.S./M.S. 114, a K-8 located at 134-01 Cronston Ave., is rated one of the best in the school district (District 27), which contains the neighborhoods of Howard Beach, Woodhaven, Broad Channel and parts of Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, South Richmond Hill and the Rockaways.

There is also a large selection of parochial schools — which includes St. Francis De Sales (Roman Catholic), West End Temple, Yeshiva of Belle Harbor and Mercaz Hatorah of Belle Harbor — from which parents can choose. For parents with gifted children, there is also the option of The Scholars’ Academy, a school for grades six through twelve, located at 320 Beach 104 Street. The school is “really starting to produce. It’s getting tough to get into, which is a sign that it’s doing really well academically,” Gaska said.

Although limited high school options and no higher learning institutions on the peninsula force teens and young adults to leave the area to complete their education, Steve Kubiak knew he and his wife made the right decision when they decided to move to Belle Harbor when their son was born 11 years ago. Primary education “establishes the roots and values” that help children develop into respectable adults, he said.

To top this all off, property taxes are lower in Belle Harbor than in the Five Towns or other parts of Long Island that might be a logical destination for young city dwellers starting families, Farina said.

Dependable demographics

In its 101 years of existence, Belle Harbor has changed little — and that is what locals love most about it, according to lifelong resident Danny, who did not give his last name. Its steadfast nature has benefitted residents: they have enjoyed the consistent stability of middle-class living — a rarity in most places.

This likely results from Belle Harbor’s mostly unchanging demographic. Since it was founded in 1907 by Frederick Lancaster, its population has been primarily comprised of white, Irish Catholic, working class families, but over the years substantial Jewish and Italian populations grew in the area.

The 2000 U.S. Census bureau lists the population of Belle Harbor and part of Rockaway Park at approximately 11,359. Of this, about 93 percent is Caucasian, and 4,336 are adults between the ages of 25 and 49. Children and young adults up to age 17 make up close to 23 percent of the population, and nearly 3,260 residents are 65 and older.

Belle Harbor is home to a large number of New York City police officers and firefighters, as well, and the neighborhood suffered heavy losses from the Sept. 11 attacks. “It seems like half of the Fire Department and the Police Department lives in the Rockaways,” many in Belle Harbor, according to Gaska who remembers going to funerals every day for weeks following the disaster. “And, so, we lost more people than any other single community.”

Another tragedy struck the neighborhood just two months later, on Nov. 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587, bound for the Dominican Republic, crashed in the center of Belle Harbor shortly after takeoff from neighboring Kennedy International Airport.

The incident, in which 265 people were killed — all 251 passengers and nine crew members on board and five people on the ground — put Belle Harbor’s name on the map, but the negative attention was unwanted. Hoping to maintain their privacy, Belle Harbor families mourned quietly and out of the public eye. The city erected a memorial on Nov. 12, 2006, exactly five years after the tragedy, on Beach 116th Street in neighboring Rockaway Park.

Activities and amenities aplenty

The neighborhood is eerily quiet on a hot Sunday morning: in place of blasting boomboxes and rambunctious beach goers are the sounds of chatting neighbors and water rushing from garden hoses.

One short block mildly disrupts this tranquility: Beach 129th Street. There, “hustle and bustle” is always an applicable phase, as it is Belle Harbor’s small commercial center, which contains a newly opened Dunkin Donuts, Jameson’s Pub, the Plum Tomatoes Pizzeria and the renowned Beach Bagel.

Beach 116th Street — a large shopping center and transportation hub — provides more amenities: department stores, supermarkets and a variety of eateries and smaller shops line the busy street at which the first stop of the A train is located.

Commuting to other boroughs — not a fun task in any part of New York City — was recently made easier for Belle Harbor residents, whose transit options are limited. With the addition last year of the Command bus, which travels directly to Manhattan, and the May 12 launch of the Rockaway ferry, residents can leave the peninsular without their cars.

Close-knit community

Coming into Belle Harbor is a different story. “Outsiders” — those from mainland Queens and other boroughs who visit Rockaway’s beaches — are, for the most part, well-tolerated by Belle Harbor residents, despite the occasional litter they leave behind. But the tight-knit community enjoys its seclusion, according to one resident who did not give his name.

The father of three, who recently moved from another Rockaway location to Beach 134th Street, said it can be difficult for Belle Harbor residents to absorb the hordes of summer visitors. But, they are no more hesitant to let their children play unattended on front lawns. Relying on neighbors for help watching the kids is, and has always been, a big reason for this.

Keith Malucelli shoots hoops outside his Beach 125th Street home. He watches from the corner of his eye as his sons chase each other down the street — Nicholas, 6, on a bicycle and Michael, 4, in a toy truck. Malucelli likes to keep to himself, but his kids eagerly race three houses down to the Kubiak house where 11-year-old Chris and 4-year-old Nicholas slide across the Racer Water Slide their father, Steve, laid out on the front lawn.

There is little worry about outsiders or speeding drivers or aggressive adolescents starting trouble. Few bars, dance clubs, pool halls and bowling alleys on the peninsula lead to a relatively safe, if quiet, existence — but its exactly what these young parents want. It’s the reason Kubiak, originally from Richmond Hill, moved here when his oldest son was born and Malucelli decided to settle down and build a new home six years ago.

“There are very few neighborhoods in this city that are better than Belle Harbor that offer as much at it does,” Gaska said. “It’s one of the top 5 or top 10 neighborhoods as far as neighborhood character, quality of life and market value of real estate — signs of a good neighborhood.”

Broad Channel breaks the city mold

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article originally appeared in the Queens Chronicle on Feb. 14, 2008. This content is the rightful property of the Queens Chronicle. Photos  were not immediately available.]

There might be only one place in the entire city of New York where drivers can make a left turn on red, park on a main street’s central median and ignore one-way street signs.

That place is Broad Channel, an island in the heart of Jamaica Bay only accessible by way of train, bridge or boat. Barely recognizable as a Queens neighborhood, this unique community offers its residents something most city folk lack: a body of water into which they can dive from the docks in their yards.

The incomparable views there are made even more exhilarating when migratory birds, which find sanctuary at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge just north of Broad Channel, can be seen skimming the water and circling the expansive sky.

This quaint community, often used as a throughway for those heading to the Rockaways, is slowly changing, according to Barbara Toborg, a longtime resident and founder of the Broad Channel Historical Society. Still, she and her neighbors believe it continues to keep its charm and special character. “Broad Channel is very discreet,” she said, “and I think that gives it a real sense of community.”

The few who know where and what Broad Channel is expressed similar descriptions of the homey community. “Broad Channel is a microcosm of New York City,” said Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). “Nowhere in the city will you find the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets as you do there.”

The community, which sits on marshland in the Gateway National Recreation Area, was once a summer colony, visited mostly by fisherman and those longing to escape the city heat. They built bungalows and small shacks on the mile-long island, which was also surrounded by hotels in the late 1880s, according to Dan Guarino and his wife, Liz, who are waiting for spring, when their photo essay book about Broad Channel will be published.

When Crossbay Boulevard was constructed in 1923, it caused a surge in population, and Broad Channel slowly became a residential neighborhood. The hotels came down, out-of-town visitors only stayed the weekend and houses were winterized and renovated.

As the residential sector expanded, commercial development lagged. Today, there are only a handful of businesses, which include several restaurants, a real estate office and a pharmacy. The community’s approximately 3,000 residents must travel to Howard Beach or the Rockaways for groceries, gas, clothes, movies and other forms of entertainment.

Luckily, the residents of Broad Channel don’t mind the traveling. That’s because they are tenacious, Toborg said. Agreeing with the description, Dan Guarino noted that should the residents ever need something, they will build it, buy it or fight for it themselves.

One of the longest and most strenuous battles was over property rights. Beginning in 1939 and lasting almost 45 years, Broad Channel residents fought the city, which owned the island, for the right to purchase the land under their homes. They won the fight in 1982.

That tenacity can only be found in a certain group of people, Toborg said. Giving an example of just how strong community members are, fourth-generation Broad Channel resident Margaret Wagner recalled one nor’easter that caused devastating damage to the island’s occupants, but failed to destroy their resolve. They cleaned, repaired and stayed in their homes — which were all elevated.

The residents are accustomed to floods that drown their streets; to high tides that force them to park their cars on Crossbay Boulevard’s central median; and to repeatedly cleaning their windows, which get splashed with and stained by salt water.

Although things can get messy, it no longer looks as rundown as it did before residents obtained the rights to purchase land from the city, Wagner said. “Everyone takes pride in their property here. Everybody cares how the town looks.”

People work together to beautify the neighborhood, Liz Guarino said. They chip in financially and physically, as they did when the neighbors of East 6th Street, the island’s lowest and most flooded road, decided to build a dock.

One resident in particular appears to have single-handedly taken on the task of improving the area: Wagner’s brother, Charlie Howard. His goal is to move Broad Channel’s commercial sector forward, Wagner said. He owns Call-A-Head, one of the most successful portable toilet companies in the state, the Bay Gull Store and Broad Channel’s newest addition, Wharton’s Pharmacy. According to his sister, Howard’s next endeavor is a cafe.

As times change and the real estate market fluctuates, the Broad Channel demographic is changing and so is the need for more commerce, said Wagner, an associate broker for Century 21 in Howard Beach.

It is no longer made up entirely of generations of Irish and Italian families or blue collar workers, which Toborg said resided there for most of the community’s existence. Today, Wagner is selling homes to young, professionals and city workers who can’t afford Long Island’s taxes or who aren’t ready for million-dollar estates. Houses can cost between $300,000 and $600,000, Wagner said.

ýany people are leaving Broad Channel because they go away for college and don’t want to return or decide to plant new roots in other parts of the country, the former Broad Channel Athletic Club president added. Wagner is finding that those from the outside who consider moving into Broad Channel “either love it or (realize) it’s not for them.”

Aside from the town-by-the-sea lifestyle that might turn people away, the community’s small size often intimidates new buyers who are used to large spaces, Wagner noted.

Most lots in are 2,500 square feet. Some of the newer houses are double that size, but are nothing like “McMansions,” Liz Guarino said. “They’re in character with the rest of the town,” her husband added.

Wanting bigger homes and more land, some people are considering buying up the lot next to theirs and expanding, according to Wagner. But, she doubts this will change the community’s cohesiveness, which primarily resulted from the familial relations and close proximity of homes.

Since moving to Broad Channel in 1989, the Guarinos have witnessed Broad Channel’s intimacy, they said. But it was last spring, when they began working on their book, that they realized its full extent. Although they spent many long and hard hours collecting information and photographs about the history, they didn’t mind sharing some of the credit with their neighbors.

Calling it a “collective effort,” the couple said they received assistance from the historical society, residents who provided vintage pictures and old-timers who remembered names and dates of people and events.

The residents of this neighborhood are very “involved,” Dan Guarino said, which Toborg believes is why it is so socially and politically savvy. With annual parades and parties, active local organizations and casual meet and greet events, people are always interacting. The residents gather at the public library, the two churches, the volunteer fire department and the public elementary school on a variety of occasions.

This has created a safe community with an extremely low crime rate, Toborg said. It has also created a comfortable environment where people can work out issues or disputes among themselves.

In one recent case, the residents were unable to do this. Members of the BCAC and the American Legion Post 1404 ended up in court after fighting over a piece of land. The two-year battle followed an earlier battle over the same spot. The previous fight between the BCAC, one of the churches and a Brooklyn organization lasted five years.

Still unresolved, the situation has left some bitter. Wagner, who was involved in the proceedings since they first started a decade ago, recently resigned from her position and said she holds a grudge. “Worn out” and financially exhausted, she and other BCAC members are keeping their distance from their American Legion neighbors — some of whom are their own relatives.

But more often than not, Broad Channel residents unite to fight common enemies, Toborg said. The most current cause is the very land on which it sits. Preservation and protection of the disappearing marshlands have become the residents’ main priority.

The tidal wetlands that surround the island are rapidly eroding, causing concerns about increased flooding. Groups like Dan Mundy’s EcoWatchers and Don Riepe’s Jamaica Bay Guardian have been formed to advocate for conservation.

The residents have been working to meet this goal with their elected officials and various city agencies. They have maintained working relationships with the city that have been productive and help bring about needed services and other things, Toborg said.

Despite all its activity, Broad Channel is often overlooked. “It’s almost like a forgotten pocket,” Dan Guarino said. “You could miss it with the blink of an eye,” his wife added. However, the neighborhood enjoys its privacy and geographic isolation, Addabbo concluded.

The community is keeping up with contemporary culture and society, but it refuses to lose its mystique, Toborg said. Unique in its old-town charm, remote waterfront location and bold population, it will forever seem a world away from the concrete jungle that is New York City.

Charles Park still in shabby shape

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images
Local national recreation area still in poor condition despite local advocates’ fight for improvements.

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article originally appeared in the Queens Chronicle on July 10, 2008. This content is the rightful property of the Queens Chronicle. Photos were not immediately available.]

Most people wouldn’t be happy to see rain on the Fourth of July, but Dorothy McCloskey almost breathed a sigh of relief when she saw cloudy skies on Independence Day.

This meant there wouldn’t be hordes of people milling about Howard Beach’s Frank M. Charles Memorial Park, which in turn meant she would find less litter, overflowing trash cans and graffiti there the morning of July 8 — the day the NY Junior Tennis League program began its six-week season for the fourth consecutive year.

McCloskey, president of the Friends of Charles Park Committee and director of the league program she brought to Howard Beach in 2004, has learned what to expect at the park after 13 years of battling with its operator — Gateway National Park —over insufficient maintenance and lack of park rangers. Without enforcement, rowdy crowds visiting the national park tend to forget how to obey rules and leave the recreation area in an unsightly state. Although McCloskey’s primary focus is getting Gateway to cooperate, she also had one message for fellow park goers: “This is a natural wildlife preserve. We can’t afford to destroy it.”

But even without rowdy visitors, Charles Park appears neglected. McCloskey’s crew of 65 tennis students gathered on the tennis courts early Tuesday morning only to find the usual: hundreds of broken shells dropped by seagulls flying overhead covered the deteriorating courts. McCloskey wasn’t surprised to see that Gateway’s maintenance staff had neither swept nor weeded the courts, which are in desperate need of resurfacing.

But she happily announced to her students and their parents that, after four years of complaints from the Friends of Charles Park Committee, the park service had replaced all five nets on the tennis court and the wind screens on the fence surrounding it.

With children as young as 6 playing on the courts, McCloskey was worried the sharp and slippery broken shells would cut their legs or send them sliding across the court. “We need at least six or seven sweepers to get the courts in a useable condition,” she said, adding that they need to be swept weekly. That they aren’t is frustrating, but it does not deter McCloskey’s program from using the courts five days a week from 9 a.m. to noon.

She is determined to make good use of the $25,000 provided for the free tennis program by a number of sponsors, including Congressmen Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks, state Sen. Serphin Maltese, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. Gateway National Park is also a sponsor, but “the good that they do is outweighed because they can’t seem to get a hold on the maintenance,” which, at best, is inconsistent, McCloskey said.

One example of such inconsistency is the park’s handling of overgrown shrubbery, which encroached on benches and poked through holes in the chainlink fence surrounding the tennis courts, posing what McCloskey considered to be a danger to children. After at least four months of hearing complaints about the dense bushes and requests to trim it, the park service responded by completely cutting down portions of different bushes and leaving others untouched. Like a bad haircut, the unevenness and asymmetry of the shearing left some areas once hidden by lush brush sitting baldly in the sun.

Gateway’s fickle management also ordered maintenance staff to paint over graffiti on a locked shed near the tennis courts, but it appears the instructions were unclear: while the front of the shed bears a solid coat of fresh paint, scrawled on its side — which faces the unkempt ballfields — are the tags of an unknown vandal.

Further adding to Charles Park’s shabby appearance is the broken fence that hangs over the ballfields. It collapsed under the weight of a dead tree, which fell on it during a heavy storm in March. The situation could have entirely been avoided if Gateway had spent $250 to remove the dead tree two years prior, when McCloskey suggested doing so. Instead, the park now has to spend $7,000 to repair the fence.

Gateway is in the process of searching for a contractor, but impatient park visitors demanded that something had to be done to secure the fence — a safety hazard for players who run beneath it and children who will, inevitabley, climb it. Gateway finally constructed a temporary wooden fence around the twisted steel wires.

Despite the tremendous support — both advocative and financial — McCloskey and the Friends of Charles Park Committee receive from local politicians and community members, the park always seems to sink back into a state of neglect. Employees at Gateway “try very hard to work with us,” McCloskey said, “but they don’t have the proper leadership to carry out the endeavors of maintaining the park.”

What needs to happen immediately, according to the program director, is a review and analysis of Gateway’s budget for the Jamaica Bay Unit, which contains Charles Park. Gateway needs to “facilitate its funding better,” McCloskey said, “and tell the community where the funding goes” instead of relying on local organizations to hold fundraisers, petition Congress members for money and donate their own time to cleaning the park.
“It’s a federal park. It should be treated like a federal park and Gateway needs to step up to the plate” — the community has already done more than enough.

But 13 years worth of effort have not been completely fruitless for McCloskey: maintenance of Charles Park has improved overall — especially with the recent repair and upgrade work done on benches and picnic tables — and respect for its importance has developed among members of the community.
“This is a beautiful spot in Queens,” McCloskey said. “We don’t call it the Jewel of Jamaica Bay for nothing.”

Saving a neglected national park

Courtesy Google Earth

Courtesy Google Earth
A handful of dedicated local residents have been working to shed led on the neglected Frank M. Charles Memorial Park — a national park in Howard Beach, Queens.

By Lee Landor

[Note: This article originally appeared in the Queens Chronicle on May 22, 2008. This content is the rightful property of the Queens Chronicle. Photos were not immediately available.]

Some Howard Beach residents have said that most people don’t know Queens has a national park, but it does: the Frank M. Charles Memorial Park.

It is a national preserve that sits within the 6,000-acre Jamaica Bay Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, a 26,000-acre, three-unit national park operated by the National Park Service.

Charles Park is in a devastating state of disrepair as a result of what locals believe to be years of neglect by Gateway’s management. Now they want the feds to step up to the plate.

Taking a break from his daily tennis session on a recent afternoon, park regular Anthony LaSaracina took this reporter on a tour of the recreation area, pointing out along the way damaged fences, broken water fountains, overgrown shrubbery, dead trees, and, most devastating to the tennis enthusiast, the deteriorating and dirty tennis courts.

Gateway’s failure to maintain the park regularly in the last decade and a half has created these “deplorable” conditions, LaSaracina said. “It’s as if (Charles Park) is in a lost world and no one cares about it.”

But a small group of extremely dedicated community members do care. In fact, they are so deeply dedicated to their mission of improving Charles Park — and the rest of the 6,000-acre Jamaica Bay Unit — that they’ve become known as crusaders. “When people see me coming, they’re, like, ‘Oh no. What’s she gonna ask us to do now?’” quipped Dorothy McClosky, founder of the Friends of Charles Park Committee, on a recent Sunday morning stroll through the park.

Since taking up this cause 13 years ago and leading the fight against the park service ever since, McClosky has acquired about $1.5 million for park repairs and a host of other improvements. She has earned the respect of numerous community leaders and area residents, and received support from every level of government.

“Everybody has a vested interest in this park,” McClosky said, which is why “we have not given up and we continually work.” About 10 years ago, the committee petitioned Congressman Anthony Weiner — who represented the park until 2001 when redistricting placed it in Congressman Gregory Meeks’ territory — for funding.

This resulted in a $1 million congressional appropriation, about $185,000 of which was used to repair the interior of Charles Park, including repaving. Some $70,000 was used to redo the children’s play area and another $75,000 to redo the park’s three ballfields. But, McClosky said, “you wouldn’t know it.”

Weeds have grown at least ankle-high in each ballfield, hiding from sight dog waste and any bump or hole over which a player could trip. The uneven ground caused 10 broken ankles in the last two years, according to McClosky.

Nick LoPrinzi, an area resident who grew up playing baseball in the park, is fed-up with the dangerous and burdensome conditions of the ballfields. It has become routine for him and members of the little league teams he coaches to arrive at the park two hours before a scheduled game to remove weeds, fill in holes and make sure there is runoff on the base path.

“It’s a shame. You want the kids to play baseball, but you don’t want to make it a four-hour process just to play one game,” LoPrinzi said. “We get promises and promises and promises that (Gateway will) take care of it, but you can barely get garbage (cans) emptied and bathrooms opened, never mind getting the fields fixed.”

Surrounding the largest ball field is a fence intended to protect players and visitors inside and outside the field. A broken segment of the fence — hanging dangerously close to the ground of the field — does just the opposite: it is a safety hazard for players who run beneath it and children who will, inevitably, climb it.

This costly damage was preventable, according to LaSaracina. Supposedly, Gateway was repeatedly asked by concerned park regulars to remove a dead tree that once stood directly across from the fence. Two years of complaints accomplished nothing: the tree came down on its own during a windstorm earlier this year.

Although no one was injured, the fallen tree caused some suffering for park visitors who must now contend with a damaged fence indefinitely. “God knows when they’ll get to it,” LaSaracina said. The ball field fence will be replaced as soon as a contractor is selected for the project, according to Gateway spokesman Brian Feeney.

When asked about the overall maintenance inadequacy, Feeney blamed limited resources. “There’s no doubt that we do not have enough resources to maintain every facility within the Jamaica Bay Unit on a continual basis,” he said. “You can imagine the enormity of trying to care for 6,000 acres in recreational and national resources. And, we do our very best to maintain everything with the resources we have available, but it’s an infinite number of resources.”

But he is confident that visitors to each of the Jamaica Bay Unit parks, which include Riis Park in the Rockaways and the Canarsie Pier in Brooklyn, will see improvements this summer, as Gateway has hired additional seasonal maintenance personnel.

Members of the Friends of Charles Park Committee have heard this all before and they just don’t buy it. “We’ve given up on the park service because when we call, they don’t respond,” McClosky said, noting that, while Gateway neglects to uphold its duties, both Weiner and Meeks have fulfilled theirs. Even city and state politicians, including City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and state Sen. Serphin Maltese, have tried to lend a hand, despite having no oversight on federal land.

Gateway needs to “facilitate its funding better,” McClosky said, “and tell the community where the funding goes” instead of relying on local organizations like the Friends of Charles Park Committee to hold fundraisers, petition congress members for money and donate their own time to cleaning the park. “It’s a federal park. It should be treated like a federal park and Gateway needs to step up to the plate” — the community has already done more than enough.

Feeney said that Gateway relies “heavily” on volunteer efforts and that such efforts are appreciated. But, he added, there needs to be an understanding that as a result of budget constraints, Gateway is simply unable to do everything it would like to do.

This may be so, but McClosky is demanding documented proof. She wants Gateway to provide annual reports on its overall budget breakdown — how it distributes funding among the three units — and the specifics of its spending on the Jamaica Bay Unit.

According to Feeney, Gateway National Recreation Area has a $22 million annual budget that covers the entire 26,000-acre park, which spreads across three boroughs and coastal New Jersey. From the 2008 budget, the Jamaica Bay Unit in Queens and Brooklyn received $7.5 million, while $4.5 million was allocated to the Staten Island Unit and $6.3 was used for the Sandy Hook Unit. Feeney did not account for the remaining $3.7 million.

At issue is efficiency, according to several park visitors who claimed the city Department of Parks and Recreation would do a much better job of maintaining Charles Park. But McClosky believes she and her fellow park supporters would do the best job of all caring for the preserve.

In the last decade alone, they’ve done more than Gateway has or than DPR would do, she said. In addition to the $1.5 million they raised, members of the Friends of Charles Park Committee and a number of other local organizations secured a $25,000 grant from the Hudson River Foundation and raised about $3,000 to plant 30 trees.

McClosky’s next goal is to secure a congressional earmark for Gateway’s Jamaica Bay Unit of $1 million every year for five or six years, with the condition that her committee, along with other area residents and groups, determine the funding distribution.

Her top priorities are maintenance and park rangers. “There is absolutely no enforcement of the rules” in Charles Park. This can be especially dangerous on summer weekends, when thousands of visitors swarm park grounds.

Some patrons do not pick up after their dogs, others park illegally — both on the street and in the park itself — and there are those who treat Charles Park, and the wildlife that frequently visits it, with disrespect and cruelty.

Just two weeks ago, park visitors found a dead swan that had found its way to the park from the nearby Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Center. Evidently, it had been killed. “This is a natural wildlife preserve,” McClosky said. “We can’t afford to destroy it.”

Although she often feels both encouraged and discouraged simultaneously, McClosky has never wavered in her determination to save Charles Park, and she vows to forge ahead. “Did we win the war?” she asked. “No. But we’ve won tiny, little battles all along the way.” This, she believes, inspires her anew every single day.