Good morning. It’s Monday, and I’m filling in for James Barron. Today we’ll visit a part of Prospect Park that has been off limits (at least officially) for years.
Credit…Adrienne Grunwald for The New York Times
For years, people have jumped over the fencing that surrounds Fallkill Falls in Prospect Park to spend time near the waterfall, which has been closed to the public since the 1990s. Those trespassers have left behind bongs, beer cans and trash bags and have tagged rocks with graffiti, much to the chagrin of park officials in Brooklyn.
But on Wednesday the two locked gates — badly broken and misshapen — will be permanently removed, and the area will reopen to the public.
“We said, ‘If we can’t beat them, let’s join them,’” said Morgan Monaco, the president of the Prospect Park Alliance, which manages the park’s hundreds of acres. Monaco said that the alliance decided not only to remove the gates but also to create a structured path for people to navigate.
Visitors won’t immediately see the waterfall. It is man-made, and park workers have turned it off temporarily to prevent Prospect Park Lake from flooding. Lake levels are still high after flooding from a storm in late September and continued rainfall since then. It is unclear when the waterfall will be turned on again.Still, regular visitors are excited about the reopening.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Amalia Schwarzschild, 25, was passing by Fallkill Falls after having lunch with a friend. Schwarzschild grew up in Park Slope, not far from the park, and said that she had known as a teenager that the waterfall was off limits.
“I never went back there because I had such severe anxiety as a kid,” Schwarzschild said, noting that she knew of other teenagers who jumped the fences anyway. She had always wondered what the area looked like. “Fifteen-year-old-me would be so excited,” she said of the area’s imminent reopening.
Fallkill Falls first closed in the mid-1990s as part of an effort to restore Prospect Park’s woodlands after years of degradation, in part because of the Parks Department’s limited budget in the 1970s and 1980s.
From the mid-1990s to 2004, thousands of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants were planted, said Leila Mougoui Bakhtiari, the alliance’s director of landscape management. The area around the falls was fenced “to protect it and make sure that those plants got established,” Bakhtiari said. There was initially an eight-foot-tall fence, which has since been cut in half to allow parkgoers views of the waterfall.
But that view wasn’t enough for some visitors. During the early years of the coronavirus pandemic, the alliance noticed that more people were coming to the park. Regulars started discovering and exploring areas new to them. Others visited for the first time and kept coming back. More people hopped the fencing to the falls, and not everyone treated the area with respect.
In the past couple of months, the alliance hired an outside contractor to do a thorough removal of graffiti. The next day, the rocks were tagged again. Alliance officials hope the presence of more people in the area will reduce the graffiti rate.
The decision to reopen the area was made a little over a year ago, and a walking path has since been added, formalizing one that had already been made by the trespassers.
“We have to constantly be monitoring how people are engaging with the park and adapt our uses sometimes,” Monaco said.
Though park leaders had initially intended the falls to be viewed from afar, she said that “we’re now making the proactive choice based on how we see people kind of changing their habits.”
The project started last November when staff members began cutting fallen trees, removing invasive plants and working to determine which plants would be best in the area. They then introduced native woodland herbaceous seeds and defined the path. Logs from trees that had fallen in the woods mark the path, and once they degrade they will feed the ecosystem. Steps and swales were added to protect against erosion.
The weekend before the opening, staff planned to place herbaceous plants along the front of the waterfall, and over the next couple of years officials hope to continue the trail up over a nearby ridge and down to the nearby baseball fields.
As for the waterfall, park leaders “would love it to be on,” Bakhtiari said. But she stressed the importance of managing the lake level given that all the water in the park is connected.
“We don’t want our lake to flood,” she said. But it will be on again in the winter and in the summer when the heat will lead to a lot of evaporation on the lake.
The reopening is happening at a great time, said Mary Keehbauch, the alliance’s deputy director of landscape management. The park is a haven for migratory bird species, and the oaks near the falls provide plenty of food and space for birds to stop before continuing their journeys south.
“It’s a great time for birders — this will be an opportunity for the birders to come into an area they haven’t had access to for many years,” Keehbauch said, adding that visitors will be able to “catch the end of the migration, the color change.”
She added: “It’s just a really lovely time to be in the park.”
Expect a mostly sunny day with temperatures peaking in the low-60s and dropping to the mid-40s in the evening.
In effect until Nov. 1 (All Saints Day).
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I was 18 in 1966. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and I was making my first trip to New York City to visit a friend who was studying at N.Y.U. She had told me to take a cab to her dorm from La Guardia Airport.
The cabdriver and I made the usual small talk, and he asked whether my friend and I had plans for Thanksgiving dinner.
I told him I didn’t know but was sure she had planned something. He said immediately that if she hadn’t, he and his wife would be glad to host us.
We had reached Washington Square by that point, but he wouldn’t let me leave without taking his phone number.
As it turned out, my friend and I spent a lovely Thanksgiving at the Long Island home of her relatives. But I have never forgotten Lou Jacoby and the warm welcome to New York he gave me.
— Linda Zaworski
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. Erin Nolan will be here tomorrow. — L.F.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Geordon Wollner and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].