by Anne Schwartz, Sep 22, 2003

Dominic Ortiz owns a running store in Fresh Meadows, Queens. He is also president of the Quantum Feet Road Runners Club, which organizes group runs and sponsors races. So when he heard about the new Adopt-a-Park law the city recently approved, he was immediately interested in the possibility of the store and club adopting sections of the greenway that connects a number of parks in Queens. In addition to providing good publicity for his store, he said, "it would help promote our running club, which is a separate entity than the business. It would get people running in Queens – hopefully help us as we help them."

Ortiz is one of 30 individuals or groups who have expressed interest in adopting a park since the law was passed unanimously by the City Council and signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in early September. The law authorizes the parks commissioner to make agreements with individuals or groups to sponsor a park, playground, ball field, or other park space or facility -- even park equipment like a lawnmower -- by donating a specific amount of money or labor. The payments are to be used only for the sponsored areas. The program does not include parks that already have conservancies or trusts contributing more than $500,000 a year.

Many groups and individuals already help out in their local parks, playgrounds, and gardens by cleaning, weeding, organizing activities for kids and paying for the upkeep of plantings, benches, ball fields, and other park elements. The Adopt-A-Park program is intended to reach out to more people and businesses and create a way for smaller donations to be directed to a specific park, according to Councilmember Joseph Addabbo, who chairs the parks committee and introduced the legislation. The law also provides a more transparent process for tracking the donations.

The Parks department has three months to put the program in place. Department spokesman Chris Osgood stressed that volunteer efforts and sponsorships that already exist will continue. The department views Adopt-A-Park as a way to package and promote the philanthropy and volunteerism that is already benefiting many parks. The department is developing a menu of opportunities for people to get involved, Osgood said, depending on the amount donated. This could range from adopting a bench or tree to a whole park or playground. Small and appropriate signage would recognize contributions ; no parks would be renamed.

Adopt-A-Park is directed particularly at the smaller parks in the outer boroughs that have most felt the impact of the decline in public funding for parks maintenance and recreation over the past 15 years. While many parks could benefit, the law could create a new set of inequities, bringing funding to parks in areas that have more businesses or well-off residents.

There is also the danger that increased donations may reduce the pressure on the city to fund what is truly a public service. Councilmember Addabbo said, "Written into the language of Adopt-A-Park is the fact that this is not to be in lieu of budgetary funding. We didn't want an influx of volunteers and funding, and out of the back have the funding taken out of parks and put somewhere else." He said that the council's oversight during the budget process would be a check on any attempt by the city to reduce its appropriations for parks because Adopt-a-Park can pick up the slack.

Businesses, groups or individuals interested in Adopt-a-Park can call 311 or Councilmember Addabbo's City Hall office at 212-788-7069. For more information, check the New Yorkers for Parks website.