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Neighborhood celebrates transformation of park

By Julian Caldwell

HASTINGS — After months with its fate in limbo, Riverview Park in Hastings has reopened with a new identity. Dozens of Hastings residents, some of whom had put their own volunteer labor into transforming the open space, gathered Sunday, Oct. 2, to celebrate Riverview’s new life.

The two levels of 1.2-acre parkland on lower Warburton Avenue, which was given to the Village in 1959 by local residents who owned the property, has variously been home to a playground and a basketball court, a skate park, and, most recently, an unofficial dog park where owners let their pets roam off-leash. That practice ended almost a year ago, after a dog jumped the fence that separated the park from the sidewalk and bit a 4-year-old child, prompting the Village to remove the gates that enclosed the site, thereby making it unsafe for dogs to run free.

Public meetings with the parks and recreation department resulted in the decision to renovate the site into a passive recreation park. The village board budgeted $75,000 toward the project, $60,000 of which was paid to Rodrigo’s Landscaping of Elmsford for work including re-grading the parcel to provide easier access to its lower level. The layout of the park is based on a site plan by landscape architect Donna Gutkin, who has lived in Hastings for more than five years and donated her services.

“When we first moved here we tried to use it [Riverview Park] a lot when my kids were smaller, but it was not that fun to be in because it was dirty and dogs had taken over,” said Gutkin, who has two sons, Miles, 10, and Simon, 12. “For me personally I thought it was just a shame that no one could comfortably use this beautiful space.”

Riverview Park originally had playground equipment on its lower level and a basketball court on its upper level. But by the 1990s, the equipment had worn out and was too expensive to replace. Then, for a few years in the early 2000s, the paved area of the park’s upper level was transformed into a skate park, until the number of skateboarders using it was too small to justify the cost.

For the next decade the Village allowed dog owners to unleash their dogs in the park, until the incident last October. As residents grappled with what to do with the park next, Trustee Niki Armacost started meeting with them.

“Until this year it’s been, in my view, a dysfunctional park,” said Armacost, who has been on the village board since 2009 and lived in Hastings since 2002. “I had watched various people try to make changes here in the park and I could see that nothing was happening. Years would go by and nothing would happen.”

The Friends of Riverview Park, which has around 60 members, formed in 2005 and includes neighborhood residents who don’t have backyards. Many members of the Friends, along with other Hastings residents, volunteered their time planting and watering, cleaning benches, raking, and more so the park could be renovated at a price affordable for the Village. Trustee Walter Stugis, who was elected to the village board this past spring, said the effort illustrates a major reason the Village is able to cater to the needs and desires of residents.

“My job is to watch out for the taxpayers’ dollars, and this is another amazing example of how a taxpayer’s dollar gets leveraged because unbelievably talented people volunteer to do a lot of the work and do a lot of the planning,” Stugis commented.

The reopening was celebrated with a reception last Sunday that included snacks, square dancing, and a ribbon cutting as children and their parents combed the park.

“I think this is a great balance because this is the kind of park that people can use for anything they want,” said Nancy DeNatale, a member of the Friends who lives across the street from Riverview Park and was one of the leaders in the volunteer work. “We are not defining how to use the park. All we are doing is bringing it back to its sort of natural well-being.”

Volunteers also worked with the Vine Squad, itself another volunteer group of Hastings residents dedicated to removing invasive vines from trees throughout the Village. Together they removed the vines blocking the view of the Hudson River from the park. A local resident stepped up to pay for the first clearing of trees obstructing the view from the upper level of the park.

“It’s called Riverview Park for a reason and it’s an awesome view, and if you’re down in the lower level, the lower level gives you a completely different feeling of what it’s like than up here,” DeNatale said.

A grassy slope with a narrow stone path now leads down to the lower level, a green space where children were throwing a football during Sunday's reopening ceremony.

“There are so many neighbors here that I don’t even know,” DeNatale observed. “There are lots of new people in the neighborhood. There are lots of kids and they just need a place to just stretch their legs.”

While people have begun to enjoy the park for what it is, dog owners are left without a place to legally let their pets run free. Officially designating Riverview Park as such was the goal of one group of residents during the past year, but they didn’t prevail. David Downs, who is one of seven people who sits on the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a dog owner, thinks such an amenity is still in demand.

“I’m one of the people who believes that Hastings ultimately does need a place that legally one can have their dogs off-leash,” Downs said. “I don’t necessarily think this was the best place, but I do think we need to get to a state at some point in the relatively near future where dog owners aren’t forced to illegally walk their dogs off-leash in Hillside Woods or Draper Park or Zinsser Field and places where they seemingly do.”

The Friends of Riverview Park still have a “wish list” of improvements, such as furniture, lighting, a water fountain, and sculpture. They’ve set up an online fundraising campaign at fundly.com/friends-of-riverview-park. But even as is, Riverview Park seems to have a bright future as a place of enjoyment by people of all ages.

“I’m thrilled — it’s another step in the direction of returning the river to the pleasure of the people," Stugis said. "It’s verdant, it’s beautiful. I stopped by here Friday evening and it was quiet, it was luscious, it was special.”

“It’s beyond great,” Gutkin added. “This has brought this neighborhood much closer and I feel like it will continue to be a meeting place for this neighborhood where there was none before.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


October 7, 2016

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Mayor Peter Swiderski leads the ribbon-cutting on Oct. 2.