Nature vs. nurture at Prospect Park

Nature vs. nurture at Prospect Park
The Prospect Park walk takes strollers through some of the yards most iconic landmarks, such as the Boathouse.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The Prospect Park Alliance has closed its historic boathouse on the weekends so that it can generate more cash from leasing the space for private events during peak hours — but a flock of animal lovers are chirping mad because now they won’t be able to fly to the Audubon center housed there on a Saturday or Sunday.

Members of the new group “4 Audubon @ Boathouse” say the park’s plan to replace the Audubon Center at the Boathouse located inside the landmarked 1905 beaux-arts building with a “pop-up Audubon” on the weekends that will offer free children’s programming in tented outdoor areas is robbing them of a cherished public place.

“It is a public building and now it has become privatized,” said Elaine Marvin, a longtime Prospect Lefferts Gardens resident and former environmental teacher at the center who helped form the group last month right before the facility closed on the weekends.

The boathouse underwent an extensive $5-million renovation more than a decade ago when it was turned from a storage facility into Brooklyn’s first Audubon center, complete with interactive educational exhibits, live animals, a library, and a station to document animal sightings within the greenspace.

Marvin argues that the nature center is most utilized on the weekends when parents are out in the park with their kids, and wants it to remain open on weekends when the facility hasn’t been rented.

“Saturday and Sunday is where the usage is needed,” said Marvin.

But the Prospect Park Alliance, which manages Brooklyn’s 585-acre backyard on a $9 million budget, says that it can only afford to keep the boathouse open on Thursdays and Fridays, and the closure will give park coffers a much-needed boost that can be used for maintenance, operations, and free programming, according to Alliance spokesman Paul Nelson.

“We don’t have the staff to open the boathouse when it is not being rented because it is not cost-effective and the staff is out working at the very successful pop-up Audubon,” said Nelson, who added that for the first two weekends there were more than 200 participants at the pop-up Audubon compared to the 20 to 30 park-goers that visited the Audubon center when it was open within the Boathouse on weekends.

“We had to make a tough choice, but the overwhelming response to Pop-Up Audubon clearly indicates we made the right one,” he said.

But Avid birdwatcher Neal Frumkin, who leads expeditions from the Boathouse, says that the new tented outdoor activities for kids do not compare to the enlightening experience people get at the boathouse’s Audubon center, which is also equipped with bathrooms and a visitors information desk.

“It is a portal to understanding what little of a natural environment we have in Brooklyn,” said Frumkin. “What they are going to have is a skeleton of what they used to have. You had a two-story building and now you have a tent — it’s a very different experience.”

But Nelson said that the programming at the pop-up Audubon takes place during the same time that the Audubon Center would have been open on the weekends and that it “takes advantage of the greatest resource we have — nature itself,” adding that the tents act as a meeting point for nature walks.

The Audubon Center weekend closure is not the only amenity to get nixed from the parks’ budget. The cafe at the boathouse has also been closed, and the electric boat rides are out of commission until the park finds an operator.

“The boats are very expensive to maintain and operate,” said Nelson.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

Locked out: Prospect Park-goers Neal Frumkin, Crystal Harris, and Elaine and Robert Marvin are angry that they can no longer access the Audubon Center at the Boathouse on weekends.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham