Meet a New Yorker for Parks
March 23, 2012
In 1937, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses presided over the opening ceremony of the Williamsbridge Oval track, ballfields, park and playgrounds. In 2009, Lorita Watson arrived in Norwood, Bronx, to find the facility littered with trash, and without an active neighborhood volunteer group to advocate on its behalf.
“I’d go out for a morning run in this historic place, and I’d see litter. It leaves a bad feeling, and makes people feel worse about the neighborhood,” said Watson, a lifelong Bronx resident. “I realized I needed to address it right away.”
Watson quickly revived the defunct Friends of the Williamsbridge Oval group, and joined her neighbor, Elisabeth von Uhl, in organizing cleanups and plantings.
“We had the attitude that the more people who saw us cleaning the park, the more they’d want to pitch in,” she said. “Gradually, more and more people started helping out.”
The group connected with the office of Bronx Parks Commissioner Hector Aponte, and soon were able to secure funds for new bilingual signage and garbage cans. They also enlisted the support of the Moshulu Preservation Corporation, which is helping Watson and her group host community plantings and an Earth Day event this spring.
Additionally, Friends of the Williamsbridge Oval has a particularly active Facebook page, with a public wall that serves as a community forum about the park. Browsing the page, it's easy to see how concerned the group is about keeping the park clean.
But their biggest hurdle remains advocating for the completion of Croton Mitigation projects around the park. So far, the Parks Department has dedicated more than $13 million toward Oval renovations, a new playground, and a recreation center, now under construction.
“We’ve pushed for public bathrooms, and for the rec center,” Watson said. “It’s been a lot of work, but we are starting to see some results. We understand it’s a lengthy process.”
Next steps for the group include raising money for a skate park, and the cleanup of the adjacent, smaller Whalen Park. But Watson’s longterm goals are even bigger than physical improvements. Upon completion, she said, the rec center should house afterschool programs and career training for teenagers, and other youth programming.
“Williamsbridge is a great community park, and has been for decades, but now it can take on a whole new role,” she said. “Here we have a way to reach more kids, keep them engaged in the community. The park has great potential, and we’re going to work to help it get there.”
Ambitious goals, to be sure. But since that September opening day in 1937, Williamsbridge has been an ambitious endeavor. No reason to change course now.
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