In Prospect Park, An Illegal Barbecue Free-For-All

Over the holiday weekend, Prospect Park got barbecued – literally.

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.

Parksloper May 31, 2011 at 07:09 PM
I'm sure Miss Lloyd would love to look into the missing signage but she's too busy arranging for useless sculptures in the park.
Larry May 31, 2011 at 07:13 PM
the signage needs to be LARGER and in Spanish as well as English. Better yet, just ban barbecuing in the park.
George May 31, 2011 at 07:48 PM
Only TWO summonses were issued last year!? Prospect Park Alliance spokesperson Eugene Patron has the chutzpah to say that one of the main tasks of park officers is to make sure that people BBQ in designated areas; what is the other "main task", hiding out in their vehicles? Why don't I ever see an officer handing out a multi-lingual flyer with park rules, or explaining the rules to people (while they are staging their picnicking equipment early in the morning), before they fire up their grills? We have to be "the eyes and ears" and call the Park Police to report illegal BBQing, as well as other illicit activities . The park police number is: (718) 437-1350, park supervision: (718) 965-6606
George May 31, 2011 at 07:54 PM
"Signs? I don't have to obey no stinking signs" The park police have to stop looking the other way and do their jobs. If they are afraid to do so, they should consider another career path.
Joanna Smith May 31, 2011 at 10:27 PM
Thank you, Park Slope Patch for this kind of local reporting on an issue that effects all Brooklynites. I opt for more personal BBQ ambassadors delivering the BBQ rules to park users on peak weekends rather than signs. I hate seeing negative, ugly signs in my beautiful park, and the thought that they could be posted everywhere one is NOT allowed to BBQ means we would have an awful lot of them to look at in the midst of our lovely historic landscape.
Gary Hoopengardner June 01, 2011 at 12:04 PM
It's time for all of us park "Users" to remind people how to use the park. Remind others in a kind way and then if necessary contact the park police. Hoop
Neil Zwillinger June 01, 2011 at 12:59 PM
this is a tricky issue, considering that urban parks were created to allow the masses of people, crammed into small city apartments, have some outdoor living....eating, picnicking, in the park became part of the urban experience.....however, when you take into account the very real assault on the old forest population of prospect park, to say nothing of the environmental impact of all that burning charcoal in a public space, a supposedly smoke free public space, it becomes clear that the park cops have to enforce the rules....with large fines....first, lots of signs and lots of publicity has to be attached to this....the media will jump on it....itll be on the front page of the post....it will become a celebrity cause.....bobby flay will host a barbecue and dare the cops to ticket him.....in the end, after all the shouting is over, the park will be barbecue free and the trees, to say nothing of our lungs, will be healthier and will be here a lot longer than if we allowed them to be slowly smoked, like a rack of memphis ribs....
Czerny June 01, 2011 at 04:08 PM
End BBQing in Prospect Park, period. This article and this situation is really pissing me off! People with this kind of belligerent, defiant, don't-give-a-shit attitude destroy everything they touch and everywhere they inhabit and move on to the next target. It is they who create discrimination by their actions, demeanor, and lifestyle; then when there's a reaction to their ignorant ways, the finger points to racism, elitism, exclusionism, anti-diversity, intolerance blah-blah, and all the knee-jerk guilt-ridden self-flagellators hang their heads in shame, swallow their tongues, and the beat goes on. We've worked hard to bring Prospect Park back from disrepute and neglect; why allow a plague of locusts to trash one of the few beautiful places in Brooklyn?
Czerny June 01, 2011 at 04:19 PM
I beg your pardon, but wake up, please. May I remind you that kindness is lost on some people? Didn't you read the article? Couldn't you just smell and taste the nasty attitude? Even the parks police is afraid of the lawbreakers; and you'll go up to these hostile cretins and say "pretty please, sir"? After they've had a few beers, after they've got their ribs and burgers all laid out, after they've set up their sound system and festooned the trees with balloons? It's like taking a lollipop to a shootout.
Sharon June 01, 2011 at 04:49 PM
I was in the park yesterday with my young daughters around the Audobon Center. We were saddened and shocked by all the garbage that was in the lake and in the woods and fields surrounding the lake from Memorial Day Weekend. There was more broken glass than we had ever seen in the public pathways. All the garbage cans were overflowing, so cleaning up what we could, of the horrible mess left by others, would not have worked. We came to the conclusion that those who picnic and barbecue in Prospect Park do not have any respect for nature and wildlife. All barbecuing and picnicking should be completely banned. If you saw all the garbage and waste in the water, woods, and grass that was left behind, as we did yesterday, you would be shocked into complete agreement.
Kensington Resident June 05, 2011 at 03:38 AM
How to start a public campaign to stop BBQ in the park? Does anyone have practical ways of how to approach to this problem? We need to act! Otherwise park will be destroyed and turned into smoky garbage collection site!
Jimmy June 05, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Folks what is happening to Prospect Park is just a matter of neglect and at the same time telling its users how wonderful the park is. You have BBQ everywhere in the park, rotted trees all over the place, unmanageably brush growing everywhere, the solution to that has been to fence it off and call it natural. Bicycles riding on the sidewalks, the lake being destroyed by removing all of the vegetation, a natural cover for fish. Maybe we should go back to the old days when you weren't allowed to walk on the grass but then you would have to repair the walkways.


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