Prospect Park has 45 — count ’em — 45 full-time employees. But an army of 6,000 volunteers helps tend this 526-acre greenspace in the heart of Brooklyn.
Today, I met with Tupper Thomas, the outgoing administrator of Prospect Park. Thomas is outgoing in more ways than one, btw. She’s outgoing in the sense that her boundless enthusiasm has helped rescue the park from the ravages of ’70s-era neglect. She’s also outgoing from the standpoint that she’s about to retire after 30 years service. She will be missed.
One of her innovations has been harnessing the power of volunteerism. This has proved a great counterweight to shrinking city appropriations, which have forced cuts in the park’s workforce and maintenance capabilities. But as Thomas explained to me, volunteers are picking up the slack. There are a large number of neighborhood volunteers that do everything from weeding to sprucing up playgrounds to painting benches to garbage pickup. There are also what might be described as affinity-group volunteers. The Brooklyn Bird Club, for example, plants foliage specifically to provide food and homes for birds. Various baseball and soccer leagues take steps to maintain their fields. There are also assorted corporate volunteers such as Goldman Sachs. These companies dispatch groups of employees to spend days working in the park.
“I think Olmsted would like what we’re doing,” Thomas told me. “He and Vaux designed Prospect Park to be used by the diverse citizens of Brooklyn. Now, we have the whole community helping take care of the park. It would appeal to his democratic instincts.”
After meeting with Thomas, I enjoyed a tour of the park, courtesy of Christian Zimmerman and Amy Peck. Here’s a picture of the Long Meadow — Prospect Park’s classic feature, nearly a mile of undulating, unbroken turf — as viewed through Endale Arch.