Growing green space


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The president of the Friends of Hudson River Park Playground Committee on its kids-centric mission


Photos



  • Catherine Juracich. Photo: Katie Lyman.




  • Children at Hudson River Park’s Chelsea Lawn Bowl at Pier 62. Photo: Hudson River Park



BY ANGELA BARBUTI

The Friends of Hudson River Park Playground Committee is a group of parents with a shared vested interest in a park that means so much to them and their children. As its president for nearly two years, Catherine Juracich was one of its 10 founding members. In that short time, the group has grown to 72 through recruitment and by word of mouth.

At more than 550 acres, Hudson River Park is Manhattan’s second-largest park and the longest waterfront park in the country. Juracich explained it is a resource to downtown parents, many of whom did not grow up in New York City, because it gives their children, few of whom have backyards, a green space in which to play.

Since the park does not receive any government funding, the money the committee raises goes to things like maintenance and programming. “Part of the main thing about giving to the park and playground is you can give to people who are using the park that doesn’t include you, but you can also give to yourself. It’s something that’s twofold.”

As for her vision for the future of the committee, Juracich wants to continue to create a community of parents who support each other and their families. She also revels in the potential it has, reminding us that the park itself is only 17 years old and 72 percent complete. “So we’re part of this thing that’s being created as opposed to just coming into something that’s already done. And I think that really inspires especially downtown families…to be part of this thing that’s new and growing and they can influence.”

You were a founding member of the Playground Committee. How did the idea first come about?

A donor from Hudson River Park used to be on the Central Park Women’s Committee in a leadership role. She also was a prominent member of the Playground Partners, which started in the early 80s. The women’s committee is about 1,000 members and then they have a smaller group devoted to just the playgrounds. And so she suggested the idea to friends and they thought it was great and so they started the committee. I think for our first six months we were 10 members and I was one of them. And then I got asked to become president and grow the committee. And it has been almost two years and we’re at 72 members.

Are the members mostly parents? How are they recruited?

There’s not one that’s not a parent. The Playground Committee is catered to parents. There are other committees within Friends, like a Visionary Committee, that’s more for people who aren’t in the children crowd. Originally, it was complete word of mouth, so friends of friends. And I recruited a lot of my friends and my friends recruited some of their friends. And then we had our first event, which was a luncheon over at Current at Chelsea Piers. We got 20 new members from that, but they still were basically friends of friends.

In your opinion, what makes Hudson River Park special?

Being downtown, we’re really deprived of green space as opposed to uptown, just based on Central Park. So this is the largest green area that we have access to. It also happens to be on the water, which, I think, is an added benefit. That combination of things makes it really unique to these parents who don’t have a backyard to raise their children in. I think especially with the downtown population, many of us were not raised in New York City. And I’m not saying [that’s not the case for] uptown. But oftentimes with uptown, you find multigenerational people. They grew up going to Central Park and things like that. Downtown, that’s not what it is. Most of my friends and most people on the committee were not raised here. So we’re really looking for that park green experience that a background would provide. And we’re also looking for a way to build community within ourselves. Because when you have young kids especially, you’re looking for that community aspect for yourself, as well as your children.

You have four children. What do they enjoy most about the park?

My kids enjoy the play areas the most. Although we like the other programs, that’s their main go-to. And they like the things that are on the park as well, like the mini golf on Pier 25. As for other things, my kids really like Story Pirates where some people come and read stories to kids. My kids love that. They have this guy named Mr. G who does a magic performance. And then they also have Big City Fishing, where the kids practice fishing off the piers and there’s instruction. My son loves that. Something that I’ve been working really hard on with the trust is there’s kind of a mismatch. At Hudson River Park, the main season for this type of programming is the summer. Unfortunately, a lot of people leave in the summer, especially a lot of donors. Something that we’ve been working on developing is the shoulder season, which is some more May and September programming. And that’s something that they launched this year, programming that started in May and is going to extend through September. Before, it was just June through August.

The funds you raise help the park to thrive. Tell us what the donation money goes towards.

First off, they go to park maintenance. Like, any of the playgrounds that are no longer what they used to be. An example of that would be Chelsea Waterside, the wet water playground on 23rd and the West Side Highway. And that we took on the capital campaign to redo. By we, [I mean] us combined with elected officials, have already raised 2.1 million to date. And it’s supposed to commence this fall.… That park was 15 years old. I never knew this before I got involved in parks, but they do have a wear-and-tear factor. Fifteen years is a lot on a park, especially a water park, because there’s sand at this park and it got in the piping. And then there was flooding and water issues. And when you have to renovate a playground, you have to usually pull up the flooring to renovate some of the equipment. Once you touch any of the playground, you then have to make the whole playground safety specific. You might start out doing a little playground renovation, and it becomes bigger. And then the other things are these programming events like River Keepers, which is a youth rangers on the river program, where they go in the river and catch fish and document them and things like that. And then all the programming that I just spoke of, like the Story Pilates, the movies, we fund all that too.

www.hudsonriverpark.org/playgrounds


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