The old phragmite reed fields that used to be immediately east of the Cross Island Parkway and just north of Northern Boulevard might only exist in memory as a relic of the not-so-distant past.
But today, a rejuvenated green space filled with freshly planted spartina, a newly graded tidal pool, and natural springs full of runoff from the surrounding area stand in its place — a beacon for a cleaner future for northeast Queens.
“I remember we used to ride our bikes along the Cross Island [Parkway] as kids and come to the fields here to run around the overgrown weeds and trails,” said Michael Bordes, long time resident of northeast Queen.
But for Bordes, who today in his 30s runs along the paved swath of blacktop adjacent to the patch of recently redeveloped real estate every night, he looks forward to the day when the fences come down and he can enjoy this new park.
“It looks incredible … Hard to believe such a beautiful green space was hiding in those weeds the whole time,” he said, adding, “The city’s really has done an incredible job of fixing it up.”
Still for some local conservationists, the reed fields weren’t just overgrown weeds.
“Many people don’t realize the phragmite reeds were actually a natural eco-system that helped to replenished the waters of Little Neck Bay,” said Dr. Aline Buler of the Alley Pond Environmental Center.
Though Buler was quick to point out that due to incredible amounts of human waste, which would find its way to the wetlands of Little Neck Bay, it was virtually impossible for the reed fields to filter out enough of the pollutants in the marshland to make the water potable or safe enough for a swim.
“That’s why the Department of Environmental Protection replaced the phragmite with a special five million gallon water tank and put a pumping station in Alley creek, which will pump some of the runoff to the Tomin Island treatment plant in College Point where it will be cleaned then reintroduces to the environment,” she said.
According to Buler, local conservationists would love to see the waters of Little Neck Bay, one day return to a state that allows for clamming, fishing and swimming — something many local environmentalists agree is going to take a lot of work.
“We’ve made some great improvements to the marshland … and the hope is the new spartina that's been planted and tank recently buried underneath it will help the area become a more vibrant habitat,” said Walter Mugdan, author of the Conservation Conversation.
In the meantime however, local residents can look forward to having another park along the bay to relax in with the family.
“I really hope they put in a gazebo … Maybe a Ben and Jerry's too — that would be cool!” Bordes said.