Prospect 150

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park. Of course, the park was not finished when it opened, and it has remained a work-in-progress ever since.

When I first started birding I lived two long blocks away from the 3rd Street entrance, where The Panthers watch over the road; like all the ornament of the entrances, these were added a generation after Olmsted and Vaux. As you can imagine, I have quite a lot of posts here tagged Prospect Park.

The park suffered along with the city in the 1960s and 1970s. Among other follies, a junior Parks Department functionary, who later became Parks Commish, had the underbrush in the Ravine cleared out to deny cover to the Cong, or at least their local equivalent.

The long term results of that foolishness were being repaired when I first arrived in Brooklyn in 1993. The Ravine was then closed to the public and in the midst of a massive reclamation effort, shoring up the terrain and planting native understory species. This included repairing the Ambergill Falls, which had been smothered in runoff from the denuded hills. The original plans for the park had been lost, or thrown out by Robert “Ozymandias” Moses, so old postcards and stereographs were used to recreate the Boulder Bridge and the falls.

By then neoliberalism reigned, and the Prospect Park Alliance had taken over, to beg from our overlords. The democratic city no longer had the political will to do the job; now we were to depend on the whims of philanthropy. Please sir, may I have some more?

I’ve been going into the park now for nearly a quarter century, from the days of the Behind the Fences Tours, a few of which I led. There are, if I am not mistaken, still a few trees that survive from Olmsted and Vaux’s era. There certainly was one when I first came into the park, a magnificent White Oak on the Long Meadow’s edge near 3rd Street. It succumbed in my time, as I will succumb in others’ time.

Because it is a living complexity, the park ceaselessly reveals the unexpected. If your eyes, ears, and nose are open, you will experience something new. I expect a revelation on my next visit. In the meanwhile, I will on occasion re-post some of my old Prospect Park blogs throughout this sesquicentennial year.

1 Response to “Prospect 150”

  1. 1 Ellen April 10, 2017 at 7:17 am

    I love reading about the park and its history. I look forward to reading from the archives. This blog is always a good read. Thanks, Matthew.

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