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Volunteers at Shady Park replant their beloved trees

Community group Friends of Shady Park worked with political leaders and corporate sponsors to replace trees lost during Sandy. Photo courtesy Sheila Lewandowski
TimesLedger Newspapers

The trees have returned to Shady Park in Long Island City.

The playground on 49th Avenue, long a favorite of area residents, was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy just over a year ago. The high winds sent eight 50-foot Linden trees crashing to the ground.

“I’ll never forget the expressions on the children’s faces,” said Giovanna Valese, a lifelong LIC resident. “They thought it was the end of the world.”

The park, known officially as Andrews Grove, was home to generations of kids who grew up calling it Shady Park because of the lush canopy provided by the trees.

“There were nothing but factories in Long Island City back then,” said Frank Carrado, a resident for 83 years. “It’s a special place to everyone that grew up here.”

The park opened two years after Carrado was born in 1930.

“That was back in Mayor Jimmy Walker days,” he said. “All the kids would meet up at Shady Park and then go swimming in the East River. The water was so dirty you could walk on it.”

Sheila Lewandowski, executive director of The Chocolate Factory, a theater across the street, said, “The sound of the trees hitting the ground was gut-wrenching. I’ll never forget the sound.”

The following day, Lewandowski teamed up with neighbor Carolyn Paul to start Friends of Shady Park.

“We knew we had to organize to get our park back. You need a big voice at the table to get what your community needs,” she said.

Last week, the city Parks Department planted replacement trees.

“Normally we’d plant small trees from our nursery, but through community involvement we were able to plant larger, more mature trees, five years older than the ones we’d plant,” said Parks spokesman Zach Feder.

Hoping to speed up the regeneration of the canopy, Friends of Shady Park worked with state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) to line up $5,000 donations from JetBlue and Warner Bros. to cover the costs.

The trees are 3 to 5 years older and 5 feet taller than the trees the Parks Department would have planted.

“This playground is the heart of Long Island City and with this replanting ceremony we are celebrating the end of a 13-month process to bring Andrews Grove back to life,” said Van Bramer, “The ten trees we have planted here will once again restore the shade to Shady Park.”

“We should start to get the canopy back in about 15 years,” Lewandowski. said. “But it will be a generation or two before it’s fully restored to what Van Bramer. calls ‘that leafy grandeur.’”

“In the big picture, post-Sandy it’s not that big a story,” she said. “But for families who have been here for generations, it means everything.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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