A recent report gives the park poor marks for safety but points for its unique character
By Nora Bosworth
Battery Park’s playground was one of the only in the city to receive a failing mark from the recent New Yorkers for Parks report, which surveyed 43 large parks throughout the five boroughs. But we think Zelda, the notorious wild turkey who has called the park her stomping ground for (at least) the last ten years, makes the space just perfect.
The organization’s report graded all its parks based on the following features: bathrooms, courts, drinking fountains, lawns, natural areas, pathways, playgrounds, sitting areas, trees, and water bodies. Each of the parts was judged for its maintenance, cleanliness, safety, and structural integrity. New Yorkers for Parks applied the same grading scale that is used in academia.
Battery Park, which is the 22-acre stretch of land that spans the coast of the Financial District, got an 89.
“The playground score decreased from 68 to 58 since 2010, due to persistent peeling paint on play equipment and aging, gap-laden safety surfacing,” the report explains. The study also lauds the park for its waterfront, which received a perfect score.
Yet it does not mention Zelda, who on Sunday was standing imperiously beneath one of the playground’s tables, daring the pigeons to approach. It’s not clear how long Zelda has reigned over Battery Park, though a New York Times’ article from 2003 may be her first recorded sighting.
“Few species would seem less likely inhabitants of an urban core, considering the wild turkey’s ungainly size, its native habitat in woods, mountains and swamps, and its diet of berries, nuts and insects,” the article reads.
A park worker, (who wished to go unnamed due to the Park Department’s policy forbidding employees to talk to the press), said they give her seeds, though he suspects her appetite is sated in other ways too.
“I think she gets some food off the tourists,” he explained, adding that visitors “seem to love her.”
It’s rumored that Zelda got her name from Zelda Fitzgerald, F. Scott’s wife. In the evenings the turkey roosts in the trees, and then comes down by day.
“We’ll come in the morning and see a blob up in the tree, and 9 times out of 10, that’s Zelda,” the employee said.
He is not sure how long she’s been around, but knows it’s been at least seven years. Wild turkeys, in their natural habitat, have an average life span of 3 or 4 years. But Zelda appears to have a survivor’s streak, reappearing after Sandy, to many people’s relief.
The playground, on the other hand, is still being reconstructed since the flooding. Despite its markedly low grade, the rest of the park compensated for the facility’s relative disrepair – which, the report explains, is exactly the problem: due to the Park Department’s limited resources, when one problem is solved, another pops up.
Holly Leicht, the Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, calls it a “property management version of ‘Whac-A-Mole.’”
In fact, the report showed that overall New York City’s parks have improved since the last report, which they published two years ago. 88 percent of the parks received A or B ratings. Nonetheless, Leicht has reservations about the positive findings.
“Only by growing the budgetary pie can we expect NewYork’s park system to be maintained at the high level of care we’ve come to expect in the past two decades,” she concludes. Whether such a pie will grow amid the present economic conditions remains to be seen.
In any case, go bring your child to Battery Park’s playground — not to use the facilities, which are apparently unsafe, but to spot Zelda while she’s still in her prime.
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