As more New Yorkers receive their COVID-19 vaccinations, they are preparing for a warm weather season full of activities at state and local parks, which serve as valuable resources that allow people to enjoy the outdoors in an inexpensive way.
CSEA members play a vital role in maintaining these parks, whether it’s keeping the facilities pristine or ensuring the public’s safety. Here’s a look at what CSEA members are doing to prepare for a season in the ‘new normal.’
Pandemic boosts appreciation
In the Town of Ramapo in Rockland County, parks and other recreational facilities have been busier than ever over the past year, drawing many families and out-of-towners.
As the county has one of the highest COVID-19 rates in the state, parkgoers have been desperate for sources of safe, outdoor fun.
“The parks are a gem in this area,” said Rockland County Local President Chris Vogel, a parks maintenance supervisor for the town. “The majority of people coming to our facilities are local, but we’ve also had a lot of people from New York City and just over the border into New Jersey.”
With cooped-up residents looking to access town facilities, workers ramped up safety precautions, regularly disinfecting park equipment and making hand sanitizer available.
Vogel said town officials went out of their way to provide personal protective equipment and other safety measures. Town buildings, including the bubble-enclosed recreation building used for year-round sports, were outfitted with biometric tablets that take temperatures and even detect whether an entrant was masked.
Workers are gearing up now to open the town summer camp, which has its own dedicated facility, and two town pools. The most unique project in the works is happening at the sports complex, where CSEA members have been busy pouring truckloads of sand for a new beach volleyball court. With residents still less likely to leave town for vacation this summer, CSEA members are ensuring they don’t miss out on summer fun.
Scenic park draws crowds
In Queens, Gantry Plaza State Park is teeming with visitors and flowers in full bloom. With more people being vaccinated, the park is now seeing more traffic.
“At the height of the pandemic, [the park]was like a cemetery. People started to come out again as soon as the cases dropped,” said Gantry Plaza State Park worker Jose Perez, who maintains the 12-acre urban oasis. “People come from all over because they are enchanted by the views.”
A former working waterfront with iconic and restored gantries that were once used to load and unload rail car floats and barges, the serene park is now used by sunbathers, as a set for television shows and movies and for recreational recreational fishing and family picnics.
“I know it’s going to be very busy this summer,” said Perez. “Last year, it was like we were all prisoners. Now people just want to be free.”
Aside from the freedom of working outdoors, state parks like Gantry, especially in a city as congested as New York, provide workers and patrons with another, invaluable benefit.
“This is therapy for me as much as it is work,” said Perez. “I feel very comfortable here. I know what I have to do and I get it done.”
Gearing up for busy season
CSEA members who work at the Livingston County Central Services Department are responsible for the operation of the idyllic, 80-acre Al Lorenz Park located on the Mt. Morris County Campus near the Genesee River and Letchworth State Park.
CSEA members work hard to keep the park pristine and inviting.
“Area residents and our visitors love our public services, especially our parks and outdoor spaces,” said Jeff Hopkins, a building maintenance mechanic.
Hopkins said he and his co-workers have been working extra hard getting the park spruced up for a busy spring and summer season.
“Even though it’s early in the year, folks have already been flocking to our parks spending time hiking the trails, fishing in stocked ponds, playing basketball on our new courts and grilling up a storm,” said Hopkins. “To work this job, you have to be sort of a jack-of-all-trades. Every job assignment handed down requires us to use a variety of skills, including electrical work, landscaping, masonry, carpentry, plumbing and so much more.”
Laborer Ethan Boss said the immediate focus for his work has been sprucing up the landscape, cutting dead tree limbs and logging lots of hours mowing lawns.
“I know our park visitors appreciate what we do,” said Boss. “There are lots of smiles around here.”
Dedicated to conservation
Ontario County Parks employee Anthony Robarge cares for county parks at Gannett Hill and Grimes Glen daily, including ensuring health and welfare of wildlife, plant life, landscapes, and the health and safety concerns of building structures.
There is a unique twist with Robarge’s green job — he is the only employee managing over 410 acres of park land located west of Canandaigua Lake. Robarge works hard to ensure the parks’ condition and visitor experience is first rate.
“When park visitors arrive, no matter what time of year, they expect a world-class experience that reflects our area’s natural beauty and rich history,” Robarge said.
Robarge said many locations within the park require constant conservation and it’s a job that requires his attention around the clock. Tasks include making sure roads are safe, dog waste is removed, foot trails and bike paths are cleared and safe, trees are trimmed and healthy, the lawns are mowed, the cabins and facilities are clean and accessible, among many other job responsibilities.
Robarge’s job is also unique in that he not only works on site, but lives there. The county provides the caretaker a residence at Gannett Hill with all utilities paid.
“Having an on-site park caretaker position is a relatively rare today,” said Bill Wright, Ontario County Commissioner of Public Works. “However, with our multi-use park system, it makes sense. It’s easier to manage these systems this way and the public is better served.”
Wright added the infrastructure is extensive as water, electricity and waste systems are available to all camping areas and the pavilions. That means the caretaker has to be well rounded to operate what he calls ‘a mini-city on a hill.’
Above all else, Robarge sees his world through a conservation lens.
“Everything I do is predicated on making sure biodiversity and our natural habitats are respected and at the same time, I can share and enhance the value and benefits of what nature has gifted us,” he said.
— Jessica Ladlee, David Galarza, Ove Overmyer and Therese Assalian