Illegal barbecuing spawns litany of ills

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A stray cookout or two — though technically forbidden — isn’t the worst thing that could happen along Washington’s Walk.

But dozens of illicit barbecues — creating noise, smoke, smells and a list of safety issues — can cause a veritable nuisance.

Community Board 8 member Bob Bender says his parks and recreation committee fielded a slew of complaints about unauthorized barbecuing taking place in Washington’s Walk — stretching along Reservoir Avenue from Webb Avenue to Strong Street — over the summer, including reports of people treating the area as a public restroom since no actual ones exist there.

That has prompted Bender to look into ways of setting up legitimate barbecuing options so those wanting to indulge in summertime burger-flipping fun can do so without breaking rules and sullying the park.

“There is more of a demand for barbecuing than we have locations in which to permit it,” Bender said. “I’d like to see if we can find a solution where it might be permissible along that stretch.”

But Cruz Inaru Pastrano, a self-described environmental activist who’s lived in the neighborhood more than 40 years, claims the problem is bigger than a few forbidden cookouts.

Noise and stench

“It’s also noise, constant crowds,” Pastrano said. “You have a certain amount of parks space, and the children don’t get a chance to play because you have barbecue tables, birthday parties, dance parties. It’s just not set up for that type of stuff.”

Plus, the odors from what Pastrano described as makeshift bathrooms cookout crowds construct from tarps are downright unpleasant.

“The feces, the stench,” Pastrano said. “The parks department needs to do a better job of stopping this. It just can’t continue like that.”

Pastrano claims she’s watched garbage lie around for three or four days before parks staff comes to collect it — attracting rats, but also dogs that tear into the bags.

“How can you sit on a parks bench like that?” Pastrano asked. “It’s just terrible.”

Yet, unbridled barbecuing also can be a burden on the environment.

“It hurts the trees,” Pastrano said. “All these trees, with all this garbage, are suffering,” especially since much of the waste is non-biodegradable plastic, adding to the plumes of smoke adversely affecting the environment in a borough that already suffers from health issues like high asthma rates.

There are also leftover, deflated balloons — an eyesore draped on branches, but also potentially deadly for aquatic-dwelling creatures if they end up polluting waterways.

“You’ve got 15, 20, 30 barbecue pits going in one little tiny space,” Pastrano said. “That’s a lot of smoke. But this is what we have to live with.”

Larry Santarelli, who moved to the neighborhood from Manhattan five years ago, agrees the problem’s progressively worsened since he arrived. Most of the grillers and revelers who transform the park into their backyard don’t even live in the area, he added.

“That’s why we’re being very vocal,” Santarelli said. “We’re not getting anywhere with the city. It’s been an uphill battle. It’s got to come to a stop.”

Terence O’Toole, deputy inspector for the 50th Precinct, says police do their part to keep it under control by issuing tickets, but there’s only so much that can be done.

Drawing the line

“I know there shouldn’t be barbecuing there, but I kind of have a heart when there’s a family there with a couple of kids having a Sunday afternoon hot dog and hamburger,” O’Toole said. “When it’s a full-scale, 50-people party, that’s when I kind of draw the line.”

Joseph Magneri, parks and recreation manager for the Bronx, said his department has installed signs in an attempt to discourage illegal barbecuing and bad grilling practices. But neighbors say those signs are either ignored or torn down, although they have helped in some spots.

Remains from what appeared to be a recent barbecue session lingered in the midday gloom on Oct. 1, just feet away from a sign prohibiting such practice. Excess ash and still-smoldering coals dumped about haphazardly are yet another issue, Santarelli said.

Top priority

Both Parks Enforcement Patrol officers and police have recently made Washington’s Walk a priority, said parks department spokeswoman Kelly Krause, sending additional units to patrol the park, addressing barbecuing, noise and alcohol consumption.

“It is one of the first sites our crews clean on Sunday and Monday mornings, when cleanup is most needed,” Krause said, since weekends can be the busiest time for barbecue enthusiasts.

While the parks department and 50th Precinct are working to clean up the barbecue mess, Pastrano recognizes it’s also the community’s job to take ownership of their neighborhood and make an effort to keep it clean and safe.

“It hurts to see this damage being done to the Earth itself,” Pastrano said.

“It hurts to see that people don’t have enough care and concern.”

Pastrano hopes grassroots efforts she and likeminded neighbors like Santarelli are spearheading — pushing for community-organized informational workshops, meetings focusing on the area’s park problems, and building better communication between residents and the parks department, as well as writing to their local elected officials — will catalyze what they see as much-needed change.

“We have to be more conscious,” she said. “More education is needed for the community. Children need to learn about these things.

“It’s important that we address these issues, because this can’t continue.”

CORRECTION: While there are complaints about improper barbecuing taking place in different parks in the community, a story that appeared in the Oct. 11 issue was instead focused on Washington’s Walk on the other side of the Jerome Park Reservoir. The headline cited a location that was not specifically addressed in the story.

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