By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Unexpected heavy snowfall last Thursday caused damage to trees throughout the neighborhood, resulting in park closures through this week, long after all the snow from the storm had melted.
Arlene Harrison, the president of the Gramercy Park Block Association and park trustee, sent an email to park neighbors on Friday noting that the park would be closed until further notice, and included photos of several downed tree limbs inside the park.
“Park caretakers who have been working here for decades said that it was the worst single hit to the park since they’ve worked here,” said Harrison, who made the decision to padlock the park gates for safety reasons until the debris is cleared. She said that the park could reopen by the end of the week but it had to remain closed until the crew can determine that it’s safe.
She added that the crew was pruning on the western side of the park right before the storm so there was the least amount of damage on that side, but five trees in the park were “ravaged” because of the wind and heavy snow.
“Even though those five trees looked dead, we’re going to give them a chance to survive,” she said, noting that the landscapers cut away any precariously-hanging branches and that it will be a few years before it’s even clear that the trees will make it.
Landscapers cut back all the heavy branches that were overhanging the sidewalk and Harrison said that the particular time of year contributed to the severity of the damage. Although most trees in the region have already yellowed and fallen off their branches, the trees in Gramercy Park turn later and were just starting to turn.
“These were conditions that no one ever saw before because we hadn’t done leaf cleanup yet,” she said. “At the time of the storm, the leaves were on those trees and that’s why they buckled.”
As of the beginning of this week, most of the paths were still impassable because of heavy limbs.
And Gramercy Park was hardly alone. Phyllis Mangels of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association told Town & Village on Monday morning that the western section of Stuyvesant Square Park has been closed due to limbs that pose a risk of falling. Limbs also fell onto Rutherford Place, which runs on the western side of the park. The eastern side of Stuyvesant Square Park has remained opened.
StuyTown Property Services sent out a warning text about branches that were falling within the complex due to the snow. There were also notices posted on the exits of all residential buildings, and Rick Hayduk said that snow had knocked branches down throughout the property.
The Union Square Partnership advised pedestrians to stay out of Union Square Park through Friday for their safety and to stay away from the interior of the park, as well as away from the tree canopy. The Parks Department also advised potential park-goers to stay out of city parks during the storm, but city parks did not officially close as a result of the snow.
A spokesperson for the Parks Department said that the agency had completed inspections for more than 3,300 service requests made through 311 for downed trees, hanging limbs and limbs down throughout the city as of this past Tuesday evening since the storm and from those inspections, Parks has completed 1,200 work orders out of 2,000. Both Parks and the Department of Sanitation have been working to remove brush and logs from the street, which will continue through the end of the week.
The Office of Emergency Management sent out an advisory prior to the storm, noting that a total of one to two inches was expected, but the storm ultimately dropped almost six inches of wet, heavy snow in some neighborhoods, with many areas getting at least three. The New York Times reported that 6.4 inches of snow were recorded, making it the biggest single-day November snowfall since 1882.