The Jerome Park Reservoir, an oasis in the borough that is blocked to the public, was recently opened for the first time in years.
A pilot access program for several hours on Saturday, November 14 and Sunday November 15 opened a two mile path around the reservoir which is an integral part of the city’s water supply.
The Department of Environmental Protection held the long-awaited opening at the urging of community and environmental activists, as well as elected officials.
Gary Axelbank, of the Jerome Park Reservoir Access Task Force, said that the last time the public gained access to the reservoir was at an event in 1995.
“The idea was to get a good look, and see what it felt and looked like,” said Axelbank about the public access, “and for the DEP to assess what it was like to have a fuller, and possibly even a regular, access program.”
The two-day program, which included both a guided tour and two additional hours each day of non-guided time, was a good first step, he said.
With health indicators showing the need for more Bronxites to exercise and improve their health, and about 250,000 people living near the reservoir, anything that could lead to more exercise should be encouraged. It is also a very beautiful location, he added.
One of the concerns to granting the public access through the ten-foot wide access opening, according to published reports, is that the reservoir’s water is just a short trip from millions of New Yorkers’ taps.
Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz feels that these security concerns are overblown, adding that people even boat in New York City reservoirs upstate.
He said that greater access to the site has been an issue he’s been interested in for years because he grew up and went to school nearby.
“For me, the reservoir and the ability to enjoy its beauty has always been an important issue,” said Dinowitz. “A lot of us in the community feel that there is a way to give the community reasonable access to the area surrounding the reservoir without compromising security.”
The assemblyman said that he has complete faith in the DEP to secure the water supply.
Karen Argenti, who took a tour of the site and is part of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality, said the pilot was a success.
She believes that the pilot was an eye opening experience for both the DEP and the community, who got to experience each others’ perspectives.
When it was announced in June that the DEP was going forward with the long planned pilot access, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. praised it.
“Improved public access to the Jerome Park Reservoir will not only create new recreation activities in our borough, it will help unite communities across the northwest Bronx,” he stated.
A DEP spokesman said that a review of the weekend is underway, as is a request has been put into the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau for a complete threat assessment.
“We will review how the weekend tours went, including any safety or security issues, cost, staffing, turnout and input from the community,” he said. “The educational component of the pilot continues, with professional development and in-class programs for schools in the vicinity of Jerome Park Reservoir.”
Participants in the pilot program were not permitted to take cell phones or cameras into the reservoir as a security precaution.