This weekend thousands descended upon Prospect Park to soak up the sun – and wreak environmental havoc on the park’s lush landscape while they were at it.
The park was oversaturated with weekend barbecue enthusiasts, who spilled over the park’s 13 designated grill spots into pretty much any space near a shady tree in hopes of kick starting summer with a perfectly charred hunk of meat.
But most of those grilling in non-grill zones said they had no idea that they were breaking park rules. In fact, many said they had no idea that the park had designated areas for grilling at all.
“You don’t see signs anywhere that say you can’t grill here,” said Aurora Leyea, a Borough Park resident who had set up camp with her family on Monday afternoon under the shade of the trees by Prospect Park Lake.
“How do we know where to grill and where not to grill, and what the rules are? There are no signs!” said Leyea.
Though there are maps with designated grilling areas labeled near park entrances, it is true that no-grill areas bare no signage indicating to park goers that the area is a barbecue no-go. The park’s 13 designated grill areas are marked with signage asking grill masters not to dump coals near trees, and have bins for the safe deposit of hot goals.
The park can slap fines of between $50 and $250 on anyone caught grilling outside of designated areas, but only two such summonses were issues last year according to the Parks Department, for illegal barbecuing on the Neathermead. The Parks Department did not respond to an inquiry as to whether summonses were issued this weekend before press time.
Prospect Park Alliance spokesperson Eugene Patron last week told Patch that during the summer, one of the main tasks of park officers is to make sure folks stick to the designated barbecue areas.
Miranda Otovic said that she and her family frequently set up camp in a small, non-grilling area right by the lake. It’s a good spot because it’s shady and she can easily keep an eye on the kids due to the small space.
But Otovic also had no idea that her sweet spot was in fact a no-grill zone.
“We grilled here all last summer and nobody said anything to us,” she said. “I wouldn’t grill here if somebody told me I couldn’t, but I’m not going to stop until they say I can’t.”
Prospect Park is one of few parks in Brooklyn where barbecuing is allowed at all.
Of course, there are other grilling rules besides just sticking to the designated areas.
Leyea and her family were violating another park rule as well, and said they had no idea: according to park rules, barbecuing is only allowed at least 10 feet away from trees and overhead branches, with fires contained in grills at least two feet off the ground. Leyea and company had fired up their grill in a shady nook right next to one tree, and near a cluster of several others.
Grills must also be at least two feet off the ground, though many of the grills Patch spotted in the park this weekend were miniature versions barely a foot high.
And coals must go into coal bins – not trees or the lake, which could warrant a fine of up to $250. Nonetheless, post holiday, there were plenty of coals dumped into Prospect Park Lake and onto the grass.
Last week, on a Patch survey of just the areas surrounding Prospect Park Lake, there were remnants of coals dumped along the lakeside, in the grass and in the marshland, and even evidence that folks had been grilling
Some have called for the park to issue better enforcement of the grilling do’s and don’ts, though Patron has said that illegal grilling activity is primarily only a problem on busy holiday weekends.
“Every possible barbecue rule was violated and a blind eye turned," said Anne-Katrin Titze, a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Titze and her husband Ed Bahlman say that they have even found entire barbecues discarded in the lake.
"The long term harm done is the destruction of the park's lakeside and lake," she said.