Start of the Association:
In the early 1970s, a small group of neighbors on New York’s Upper East Side banded together to help upgrade Carl Schurz Park. Their main focus was the park’s playgrounds, which served the needs of neighborhood children. Their main priority was to make sure the playground was safe and well maintained for the hundreds of families who used it.
If not for New York City’s fiscal crisis in the mid 1970’s, which threatened to swamp the city, the group probably would have continued to focus its energies on playground activities. But the fiscal crisis forced the group to broaden its commitment and to take an increasingly active role in maintaining and preserving this small gem of a park. The unique response of the Association to the fiscal crisis, and its development of a series of programs to maintain and rehabilitate the park laid the groundwork and opened the way for the series of successful projects undertaken by the Association, which continue to this day.
Achievements of the Association:
Since its beginning in the 1970’s, the Carl Schurz Park Association has grown in depth and responsibilities. Its significant achievements range from major restorations of the park, to running one of the finest outdoor professional art show in the Metropolitan area. The Association sponsors playground parties for children, outdoor summer concerts, open-air films, astronomy sessions with the New York Amateur Astronomers Association, and always stands prepared to meet the changing need of the park and the community. The Association has been praised for its ability to attract and recruit leaders who have managed to effectively meet these challenges over the length of its existence.
Steps of fix the park:
Since the City was not in a position to provide certain services form the beginning because of crisis, the Association developed long-range plans for maintaining and restoring the park. Because of this the criteria for the design of the park was that any design plan must not only be imaginative, but must also aim to minimize maintenance.
- Correcting Erosion Problems
Serious planning sessions started in 1975. But members did not just merely choose a design plan, a group of dedicated volunteers actually spent several consecutive weekends working in the park correcting erosion problems that had gone unchecked over the years. Soil erosion continues to be a problem for Carl Schurz Park, as well as parks through out the city. The Carl Schurz Association is continually renovating lawns throughout the park that have suffered extensive erosion and soil loss from rain. The erosion not only negatively effective the lawns themselves, but the lawns that are located below them that are damaged by the deposited runoff. To correct these problems the park usually undergoes extensive renovation projects, in which they dredge out crabgrass, weeds, mysterious earthen lumps and rocks, and bring in high quality topsoil. The soil is leveled, aerated, and cover it with a “custom” shade mix. Shade mix is a cool-season grass seed mixture made of very shade tolerant grasses that will persist in shady areas. This season the “custom” shade mix consisted of “Custom Shade Mix” used for this site includes tall sescue, chewing sescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and a rye. The next step is to cover the area with burlap netting and erect a fence around it.
- First Major Restoration Project
By 1976, the Association was ready for its first major restoration project: Several large flowering cheery trees had died in the center Mall from a faulty drainage system. The City had no plans to replace them, so with the approval of the Parks Department, the Association contracted with a private concern to replace the trees and re-sod the adjacent areas. This initial project proved to be a milestone, in that its success was felt beyond the boundaries of Carl Schurz Park, and for many years it was used as an example of how community groups can have a positive impact on their neighborhood. This was the first time a major restoration of a City park was planned and funded by a community group, and completed as a joint project with the Parks Department. The Association paid for the installation of the trees and sod, and provided the necessary drainage pipes, while the Parks Department provided the labor to install and repair the system. This resulted in a highly successful joint effort.
- Increase Funding Activities
In order to keep the park from falling back to its earlier days of neglect, the Association has increased its public and private funding activities. With 1,200 members, the Association funds the salary of a full-time Park Enforcement Patrol Officer, seasonal gardeners and numerous horticultural, programmatic and capital improvements.
- Park-Wide Improvement Plan
In 1999 the Association completed a Management Plan for the park. This was essentially an assessment of the state of the park’s physical plant, its upkeep and management. This report was used as the backup materials delivered to four landscape architectural firms, which solicited bids for the first park-wide improvement plan since the 1930’s. The Board chose Quennell Rothschild & Partners, LLP, for the depth of their urban park experience and vision for Carl Schurz Park.
Recent New York City improvements to the park include:
- a complete resurfacing of the perimeter sidewalks surrounding this 15 acre park
- a restoration of the vintage bluestone pavement extending from the foot of East 86th Street and East End to the graceful staircases that lead to the John Finley Walk
- a relandscaping of the park’s “Axis Garden”
- The “Hoop Garden”, a gently sloping garden encircled by the East 86th Street staircase.
Active CSPA volunteer committees organize a number of events for the community including:
- Gracie Square Art Show
- Halloween Howl – a dog costume competition
- Volunteer gardening
- Amateur astronomers associations meet there once a month
- Children’s events: Such as parties, festivals, arts programs, sports, concerts
- Film festivals
- Annual art show
- Holiday events: Tree lighting, caroling, parties, etc.