They just want their park back.
The sisters have lived in Howard Beach for two years, and Volkes said Charles Park was a big part of their attraction to the neighborhood. But the sisters quickly realized that the federal park was not being maintained.
“The beach is filled with debris,” Volkes said. “The handball courts are disgraceful. The basketball courts are disgraceful. The park is supposed to be closed at dusk and nobody patrols it. Nobody stops anything.”
Volkes said people from outside of the Howard Beach community use the beach for sacrificial rituals and residents frequently see and smell dead chickens and rotting fruit. People also barbecue on the grassy area by placing the charcoal directly onto the grass, which damages the area, she said.
Volkes and her sister started an online petition that has garnered 356 signatures so far and also held a petition drive two weeks ago to persuade others in the community to sign it. Volkes and McCann, who have dubbed themselves “two girls on a mission” will be hosting another petition drive this Saturday and representatives from Melinda Katz’ office will be there to inspect the neglected park.
“I love that park and it could be a beauty if taken care of properly,” Vicki Carbone said in a post on the online petition.
The baseball fields in the park were recently renovated after several residents, including local softball team X-Bays, told Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder about the poor conditions. But Volkes said those changes are not enough.
“The park needs to be cleaned,” Volkes said. “It needs to be restored. The handball courts need to be painted. The playground needs to be safe. The rituals need to stop. The residents are tired of hearing the beating drums, the stench from whatever is burning.”
Daphne Yu, a spokesperson for the National Parks Service said that the agency has collaborated with community groups throughout the year to keep the park clean. According to Yu, the agency is working with the Charles Park Conservation Society through a youth employment program to have two students at the park three times a week for maintenance.
“This is all above and beyond the maintenance and cleanup our own staff provides for this site, which happens daily,” Yu said.
She also said that any group that wants to help keep the area clean can contact Keith White, volunteer coordinator for the park at Keith_White@nps.gov.
Volkes said it should not be the responsibility of Howard Beach residents to clean up the park, especially if people outside of the community are the ones causing the damage.
“It’s sad when a kid comes over to you and says, ‘I hope you clean up the park because this way my parents will take me there,'” Volkes said.