Bringing a neglected park back to life

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Four years ago, Jacqueline and Christopher Hosford were sick of seeing six-foot rose bushes take over the park across from their apartment. So instead of letting it become a sight for sore eyes, they did something about it.

That offending park was Brust Park. Its entrance is right across the street from Manhattan College’s entrance on Manhattan College Parkway.

The 1.79-acre park is divided by Greystone Avenue into Lower Brust Park, an area full of greenery, and Upper Brust Park, which contains a playground and is closer to the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

But for the Hosfords, it’s the park’s lower half that required some sprucing up.

“It needs repair, it needs love, it needs attention,” Jacqueline Hosford said.  

So the couple did just that. Christopher mowed the area at times when the college’s groundskeepers hadn’t done so, and Jacqueline teamed up with the parks department to find ways to encourage more volunteer work from the community, especially during the department’s “It’s My Park” events that take place across the city.  

Soon enough, Manhattan College students, neighbors from the Hosfords’ building, and various residents did their share of cleaning up and renovating the park.

Stewards of the park

From there, the Stewards of Lower Brust Park was born.

Now, the Stewards are working on a new mission to renovate a garden just in time for spring and summer. Jacqueline secured a $1,200 grant from the park’s department’s City Parks Foundation that made this renovation a reality.  

Although renovations started later than anticipated due to the cold weather and multiple snowstorms this year, Hosford and her volunteer team were able to start planting different trees and flowers last Saturday.  

The effort to restore Brust Park is vital to Riverdale, Jacqueline said, because the work is done for the community, by the community.

“It’s us,” she said. “The way these things get taken care of is a group of people who care getting involved to take care of it.”

Students join in

With Manhattan College so close, its involvement is primarily through its Green Club, a student organization dedicated to educating others on environmentally friendly initiatives, and volunteering to put those ideas in practice. Daniel Aguirre, a Manhattan junior and president of the Green Club, has been part of the group since he was a freshman, and volunteers at the park whenever he’s able to lend a hand.

He recalls a time when his group ventured deep into the park’s forest area to clean, finding an old Mountain Dew soda bottle with an unrecognizable logo.

“The logo was so old, we had to look it up online,” Aguirre said. “It was actually from the 1970s.”

Aguirre’s mission is to make sure Manhattan students maintain a positive relationship with its neighbors.

“I feel that we need to give back to the community,” he said.

“We live there and ... I don’t see why we shouldn’t give back.”

John Bennett, director of student engagement at Manhattan, has similar sentiments.

“We try to speak up on the neighbors’ behalf as well because we understand how much time and effort and money the neighbors and our students are putting into making Brust Park beautiful,” he said.

Bennett graduated from the school in 2003 and has been on staff for nearly 10 years. For him, the park has always been a part of its campus despite being across the street.

“Brust Park is an extension of the school,” Bennett said, “and the school is an extension of Brust Park.”

What the future holds

Looking ahead to the park’s future, Jacqueline Hosford hopes the city’s parks department will improve the stairway through the lower half’s forest and eventually renovate Upper Brust Park.  

She also hopes the group becomes sustainable enough that when she and her husband ever decide to step back, they can count on a solid group of volunteers to keep the mission alive.  

But for now, Jacqueline’s getting the hang of learning how to maintain a bustling garden — a responsibility not far off from her day job as an interior designer.

“I’m getting the joy of planting and creating something from just nurturing the earth and bringing forth life, but also creating and enjoy(ing) design from a different angle,” Jacqueline said.  

“But really, what’s bringing me the greatest joy is how people react and interact, and it was the park and it was the plants. And I can’t tell you how excited thatmakes me feel.” 

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