The Travesty of the Willow Lake Trail

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Many people who visit Flushing Meadows-Corona Park know about Meadow Lake, a large, man-made lake built by Robert Moses for the 1939 World’s Fair. Few know about Willow Lake, a smaller lake that feeds into Meadow Lake, created at the same time. Willow Lake serves as the headwaters for the Flushing Creek; the source is located somewhere around the Jamaica Subway Yards at the extreme south end of the park.

It used to be that the entire park was open during normal hours, but thanks to years of neglect, the area around Willow Lake soon became overgrown and a hotbed for crime. The trails surrounding the lake were eventually closed to the public.

In early May, a group of urban explorers called the LTV Squad  visited the trail, which was then still closed. What they found there amounted to 15 years of neglect. Washed out pathways, junk, and an oily sheen floating on the mud on the trail — nothing that would ever be seen in a park in Manhattan.

Fast forward three weeks. The City of New York, possibly embarrassed by this expose, hastily cleaned up the trail and opened it for public use on weekends.

Or did they? The LTV Squad revisited the trail and found a massive coverup. Woodchips a foot high laid on top of the oily mud, and one section close to the Forest Hills entrance that had not been fixed at all. Considering how quickly most of the path was fixed after their first writeup, they assumed that that last section would also be finished rather quickly.

Two months later, I myself would visit the trail, entering via the Forest Hills entrance. This is what I found.

You call this a walkable path?
You call this walkable?
There are at least two of these broken lampposts, chopped down and rotting by the side of the "path."
There are at least two of these broken lampposts, chopped down and rotting by the side of the “path.”

And that’s not even the worst of it.

I don't even want to know what that orange stuff is. Or maybe I do. Then, when I "accidentally" leak it to the Daily News and the Post, maybe the City will finally do something about it...
Enjoy your walk.

Here, there’s no rotting wood on the ground to step on, so you have to squish your way on through. The sound your boots make when they squelch into the mud is just horrifying. I almost fell into this muck several times, and God knows how sick I would be if did. LTV Squad thinks that the orange… stuff… is motor oil runoff from the nearby Grand Central Parkway… but I really don’t think that’s all there is to it. The waters of Willow Lake are said to be polluted with hazardous chemicals and metals from the auto triangle next door to Citi Field and the industrial section of College Point at the mouth of the river.

There’s also another section that looks just like this, but with paving stones laid into the path so you don’t, you know, fall and possibly die from poisoning.

The kicker? I ran into someone going towards the Forest Hills gate, and he decided he was going to try to tackle it. With dress shoes. I seriously hope he doesn’t have some kind of foot-deforming disease right now.

Compare this to what the trail looks like after you pass the burned-out bridge.

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It’s walkable. It’s dry. It’s not laced with chemicals. And it gets better as you go along, too!

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Right up against the lake. Don't try to swim, though.
Right up against the lake. Don’t try to swim, though.
The only willow tree on Willow Lake?
The only willow tree on Willow Lake?

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Which begs the question: If the city could spend (minimal) effort to make 7/8 of the trail really really beautiful (even if the woodchips are just covering up something nastier), what happened to that last bit ? Why did they just stop working on it? Clearly, the site has been like this since early June, when it opened. To put it lightly, the muddy section is a health hazard, and it really appalls me that the City would dare to open it without even trying to fix it up. The whole shebang smells of a rush job in response to one damning expose — without even finishing the job.

Of course, that brings to light another glaring truth: the City does not care about Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, or the people that use it.

Think about it. Why did it take 15 years just to make most of this trail — and only most of it — passable again? And why is it still not finished? If something like this had happened in Central Park, would it take over two months and counting to fix it? Of course not. Central Park is in the heart of Manhattan, and all the rich folks who live there would be pissed if they were to discover something like this — and the City would actually listen to them. This park is in the outer boroughs, which means, in the eyes of the City, it doesn’t exist. And the cries of the (lower income) residents who use this park go unnoticed. Money talks, folks.

And then the administration has the gall to suggest that the Fountain of the Planets — which is part of the Flushing Creek, by the way — be replaced by a new Major League Soccer stadium. First, they let a large part of the park fall into disrepair (Exhibit B: The New York State Pavilion), and now they want to build a giant new stadium there and take away our parkland? Someone’s priorities are screwed up, big time.

It’s probably going to take someone falling into the oil slick for this to get anyone’s attention. The subsequent lawsuit would make the City finally pay attention.

But by then, it will already be too late.

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