Bandits on the run: Young raccoons spotted in closed Carroll Park

A little raccoon at Carroll Park on May 31.
Gary Dolan

With Carroll Park closed to humans during the COVID-19 pandemic, at least one pair of young raccoons have moved in, according to one local caretaker of the Smith Street green space.

“I’ve never seen raccoons in the park before and I’ve been active there for 15 years now,” said the president of Friends of Carroll Park, Gary Dolan.

The steward of the small lawn between President and Carroll streets said he spotted the trash pandas while tending to the shuttered garden on the evening of May 31.

“They were just nosing around,” he said. “It’s a sign of a return to nature, I guess.”

The Parks Department closed the less-than-2-acre park on April 2, after city officials deemed it wasn’t feasible to shutter just the sports courts, playground, and spray shower, while keeping the park’s monument and sitting area open, spokeswoman Anessa Hodgson said at the time.

Carroll Park’s new wildlife — which local blogger Katia Kelly first reported on — might be due to the lack of people, and Dolan opined that the masked bandits might have become more daring, like rats have been due to the lack of food scraps as a result of people quarantining.

They weren’t too shy, according to Dolan, who said they only backed up a near tree when he came closer to snap a photo.

Raccoons climbed up a tree as Dolan approached.Gary Dolan

And while the critters may look cute, in 2018, a strain of the disease distemper travelled from raccoons in Manhattan’s Central Park to their Prospect Park cousins, leaving them exhibiting zombie-like symptoms and dropping from trees.

But the specimens Dolan encountered were only about the size of a chihuahua, leading him to believe that they weren’t fully grown adults —which are usually the size of a large house cat — and he’s not sure if they have taken up residence in Carroll Park or are just dropping by for a snack. 

“I’m not sure where they sleep at night [or if] they just come to the park for lunch,” he said.