The reservoir faced some controversy in 2014 when its walls were erroneously marked as hazardous, according to Matt Malina, director and founder of NYC H20, a nonprofit that educates New Yorkers about the city’s water system.
The Parks Department sent an application to the Department of Environmental Conservation in order to have the walls reclassified, but the DEC returned the application in December and the Parks Department has yet to respond.
Malina added that the Parks Department has placed holds on any plans involving the reservoir.
Some members of the community have taken the opportunity to express their interest in allowing the reservoir to remain as is rather than transform the space into ball fields and other facilities.
This sentiment followed a renovation two years ago where the perimeter path around the basins were updated with fences, lights and additional pathways.
During community meetings, the most recent held a few weeks ago, residents argued that the space is underutilized but has the potential to be a nature center that will be beneficial to the community.
“The City Council recently passed the rezoning for East New York, so there will be more people coming in and this is like Central Park,” Malina said. “It’s an incredible resource for nature and it would be great to increase access and have more people enjoy it.”
Malina regularly gives tours of the reservoir to the public and school groups, including one last Saturday. Visitors come as far as Nyack and Scarsdale, although many visitors are from the surrounding neighborhoods, mostly the Glendale area.
For many people, it's their first visit to the reservoir. When asked has stopped them from visiting in the past, over 50 percent of people stated that the area was hard to get to or they didn't know it was a public site.
People on Saturday’s tour cited the need for restrooms, trails and benches, but most notably a boardwalk with railings that would go into the basins. Another issue seemed to be that while the perimeter path is open all year round, the causeway between the basins is only open from May to August.
“In the offseason, like November, when there is a totally different topography, it would be good to have some special tours,” one visitor said. “It would be good to see the difference.”
NYC H20 is applying for a challenge grant with the Auchincloss Foundation. If the organization is able to raise $10,000 by June 30, the foundation will match their funds dollar-to-dollar.
With the grant, NYC H20 will be able to provide more free ecology field trips to the Ridgewood Reservoir for students from area schools.
The Ridgewood Reservoir was built for the independent city of Brooklyn between 1858 and 1860. In 1898, Brooklyn joined the City of New York, and by the end of the 1950s, the Ridgewood Reservoir became obsolete when New York City started tapping into larger reservoirs in the Catskills region.
By 1989, basins one and three were drained completely. Basin two now contains a freshwater pond, and over the last 20 years, nature has taken over to create different ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and meadows.
The reservoir was found to have about 120 bird species, like the red-winged blackbird, and nearly 200 plant species, like the crabapple tree.
A few structures still exist on the reservoir, including a gate house with valves used to regulate the flow of water as it left the reservoir and went to the City of Brooklyn.
Malina and visitors agreed that the structure would work as a nature center as well as a museum where guests can see the machinery needed to control the gate house.
“I’d love to have people from the community and all over the city come and visit the reservoir, see it’s beautiful nature, learn about its history and see how it relates to our city today,” Malina said.