All aboard Van Nest Park

Courtesy Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance

All aboard a new park in Van Nest!

Local kids will soon be able to goof around on mock train tracks and curl up in playhouses shaped like old-school ticket booths at the nabe’s new playground —modeled after the area’s unique history as a railroad hub.

The City Department of Parks and Recreation started building the fencing around the site in January, and the Department says the new digs should be up and running in a year.

Homage to Nabe Lore

Van Nest’s new park is a major victory for local activists who have long griped that their kids need a better place to play.

“The playground there before was garbage,” said Bernadette Ferrara, vice president of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance. “We needed to build a place with amenities, where young kids would want to go.”

Those kids will also get a taste of neighborhood history to go along with the swing sets. Final schematic designs include a sprinkler modeled after an R/R/ railroad sign and play equipment built in the shape of a train.

It’s all an homage to the nabe’s namesake, the former Van Nest railroad station.

Named after the Van Nest family who settled here from Holland, the station shuttled visitors to and from the Morris Park Racecourse in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Major amenities

But the playground will have practical touches to go along with its historical flair. A seven-foot picket fence surrounding the park will help keep balls from flying out of bounds during sports, and Parks plans to build a buffer of greenery on the perimeter to separate the playground from the sidewalk.

Plans also call for drinking fountains, added benches and a concrete ramp.

A long journey

Locals have been campaigning for a new park in Van Nest for over three years. Nearby Community Board 11 listed getting funding for the playground as its top capital expense budget priority.

The City Council and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. were able to secure over $1.3 million for the renovation in Mayor Bloomberg’s final budget for 2014.

Van Nest’s Neighborhood Alliance had originally pushed for a bit more space –including a basketball court and hand court — than what ended up in the plan. But Ferrara says she’s thrilled the City was able to find a way to make the new Park happen.

“We really did get quite a bit of what we wanted,” she said. “We think it’ll be the jewel of the community.”

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail her at Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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