Old Oak Pond Ecological Restoration Project
The Udalls Cove Preservation Committee, Inc. (UCPC) is proposing an ecological restoration project in the eastern part of the Old Oak Pond section of Alley Pond Park in Douglaston, Queens, NY. The park is owned and operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR). UCPC serves as the park stewardship organization for this portion of Alley Pond Park, as well as for the nearby Udalls Cove Park.
The Old Oak Pond section of Alley Pond Park is bounded by Northern Boulevard on the south, the Douglaston Golf Driving Range on the west, the Long Island Railroad on the north, and Douglaston Parkway on the east. Old Oak Pond is in the center of this section of the park. The proposed ecological restoration site is on the east side of the pond, outlined in yellow in the aerial photo below. The restoration site is about 1.5 acres in size. It extends west from the Joe Hellmann Overlook on Douglaston Parkway, down a steep slope to the shores of Old Oak Pond, and continues several hundred feet further south. Foot trails (shown in green in the photo) wind down from the Joe Hellmann Overlook, wrap around the southern portion of the pond, and connect to the east end of the Douglaston Golf Driving Range parking lot.
Objective of the Proposed Restoration Project
The proposed restoration area is coming to be dominated by invasive Norway maple trees, though a few large native oak trees remain towards the bottom of the slope near the pond and other species of trees are scattered around the area. The objective of the Old Oak Pond Ecological Restoration Project is to restore sustainably, to the extent possible, the indigenous natural flora and fauna of the ecosystem. The project will include removal of the Norway maples and other invasives, and replanting with appropriate native tree and shrub species; this will significantly enhance biodiversity, making the restoration site more biologically productive.
According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service and Sea Grant organization:
“Norway maples have very shallow roots and produce a great deal of shade which makes it difficult for grass and other plants to grow in the understory below. Additionally, they are prolific seed producers and are now invading forests and forest edges. … [F]orest diversity is starting to decline because the excess shade they create inhibits the regeneration of … native seedlings. The shallow root system makes growing difficult for other native shrubs and wildflowers in the understory. … Other species of flora and fauna, such as insects and birds, may indirectly be affected due to the change in resource diversity and availability. Norway maple is also susceptible to certain types of fungi, such as Verticillium wilt and anthracnose and may also serve as a host for aphids.” https://nyis.info/invasive_species/norway-maple/
On November 30, 2023, UCPC issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) from qualified environmental consulting firms to carry out a detailed, professional design for the restoration project. UCPC has received a $40,000 grant from the Con Edison company to assist in paying for the design work, for which we are most grateful.
Design proposals are due back to UCPC no later than January 31, 2024. We expect to enter into a contract for the design work by March, and we hope the design will be largely complete by the end of 2024. UCPC will be collaborating closely with NYCDPR and other partners to review the design.
During 2025, also working with partners, we will seek additional, larger grants to pay for the implementation of the project; and also during 2025 we expect to apply for the necessary permits for that implementation work.
If we are successful in securing grant funding and permits – possibly by late 2025 -- we will proceed with our partners to issue a Request for Proposals from qualified environmental contractors to perform the actual implementation work. If all goes well and according to plan, we look forward to that work taking place in the 2026-2027 time frame. Once the implementation work is completed, additional maintenance will likely be necessary in subsequent years to prevent or minimize re-invasion of the restoration area by Norway maples and other invasive species.
The project design must describe in detail how the restoration work should be implemented, and must include these elements:
Site Assessment and Data Collection, including a tree survey, wetlands delineation, and other information needed to inform the design (e.g., assessment of the soils, hydrogeological data, drainage patterns, etc.).
Design Plans, including an Invasives Removal Plan, a Planting Plan, a Soil Management and Erosion Control Plan, and a Sustainability Plan.
A report identifying the Ecosystem Benefits of the proposed restoration project.
Metrics for evaluating the success of the restoration project in the years after implementation.
Proposed Sequence of Construction and estimated Project Implementation Schedule.
Design Reports for review at the 30%, 60% and 90% completion stages. The 100% Design Report will be finalized at the conclusion of the permitting process, so as to incorporate any changes or adjustments required by permitting agencies.
Opinion of Probable Construction Cost.
Public Outreach: UCPC expects to engage with local residents, and local civic organizations and environmental groups, regarding the proposed restoration project. The design contractor must be prepared to participate in a number of those meetings, likely between submission of the 60% and 90% Design Reports, so that the 90% Design Report can be informed by and respond as appropriate to concerns of and suggestions from the public.
Consultation: UCPC and the design contractor will be consulting with NYCDPR and other stakeholders on the review of the design itself. The project will require construction and forestry permits from NYCDPR, and possibly also the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).
UCPC will regularly update this section with the current project status.
January 2024: In November 2023 UCPC contacted nine environmental consulting firms with the capability of designing the restoration project and inquired whether they were interested in receiving the RFP. Seven firms responded affirmatively, and they received the design RFP on November 30, 2023. Five of these firms responded that they were reviewing the RFP; subsequently two of those firms advised they would not be submitting a proposal. The three remaining firms attended site tours conducted by UCPC on December 15, 2023. We hope to receive proposals from these three firms by the January 31, 2024 deadline.
February 2024: Proposals for the design work were timely received from three well qualified firms. Proposals are being reviewed by four UCPC Board members, and by NYC Parks Department Natural Resources Group, and by Save the Sound (www.savethesound.org). Reviews are expected to be completed by late February, followed by selection of preferred firm and negotiation of contract.
Ecological Importance of the Old Oak Pond Site, and Relationship to Other Ecological Restoration Projects in the Little Neck Bay Area
The proposed restoration site has added ecological importance because Old Oak Pond, immediately west of the site, is a freshwater pond with a direct year-round surface water connection to Little Neck Bay, itself part of Long Island Sound. In 1988 Long Island Sound was identified as an Estuary of National Significance (see: https://www.epa.gov/nep/overview-national-estuary-program). The Long Island Sound Study organization manages this National Estuary Program public/private partnership; among its priority objectives are promoting thriving habitats and abundant wildlife; achieving clean water and healthy watersheds; and addressing invasive species (see: https://longislandsoundstudy.net/).
The Old Oak Pond Ecological Restoration Project is intended to complement other significant ecological improvement and restoration projects that have been carried out in Little Neck Bay (including Udalls Cove) and its watershed over the past 25 years or are currently in the planning stages. These include:
Three large wetlands restoration projects carried out adjacent to Alley Creek to the northeast, southeast and southwest of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). One of these was carried out by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; the other two were carried out by New York City.
Restoration by NYC of Aurora Pond, a freshwater pond in the center of Udalls Cove Park, and an associated erosion and sedimentation control project.
Installation by New York City of a 5-million gallon combined sewer overflow retention tank west of Alley Creek, between Northern Boulevard and the LIRR.
The “Big Rock Project” on the northwestern shore of Udalls Cove. a living shoreline and coastal resilience project envisioned and sponsored by the Douglas Manor Environmental Association (DMEA), with construction expected to begin in 2024.
Installation by NYC of oyster castles and other coastal resilience work on the southwestern shore of Little Neck Bay.
Ecological restoration and reforestation work carried out by NYC in recent years in the section of Alley Pond Park located south of Northern Boulevard and east of Alley Creek.
Removal by UCPC of over a million pounds of concrete rubble dumped decades earlier in the South Ravine section of Udalls Cove Park, and associated erosion control and reforestation work.
An ecological restoration project in the Virginia Point section of Udalls Cove Park carried out by UCPC in 2009; and another larger Virginia Point restoration project to be carried out by NYC, now in the planning and permitting stage.
Installation of four osprey nesting platforms around Little Neck Bay and Udalls Cove, with an additional four nests built by ospreys on trees and utility poles (seven of these eight nesting sites were occupied during the 2023 nesting season). The first two platforms were installed by UCPC in 1997 and 2004, respectively; both have been occupied ever since with chicks from both fledging nearly every year. The other nests in the Little Neck Bay area are likely occupied by descendants of the pairs nesting on these original two platforms.
Green infrastructure projects by NYC, including a completed stormwater discharge project near the mouth of Gabler’s Creek in the Virginia Point section of Udalls Cove Park and other projects in the Alley Creek watershed now in the planning stages.
The proposed Old Oak Pond Ecological Restoration Project is intended to further ecological improvements and habitat restoration in the area. Incremental work undertaken through several smaller projects can, cumulatively, make a significant difference for the ecosystem and for people's quality of life. Funding entities and permitting agencies often wish to understand how a smaller project such as the proposed Old Oak Pond Ecological Restoration Project fits into a larger context of additional restoration work in an area such as the Little Neck Bay watershed.
As an indication of ecosystem improvements in the Little Neck Bay watershed and surrounding areas, and in the bay itself, wildlife documented within the past several years include bald eagle, coyote, fox, whitetail deer, muskrat, snapping turtle, dolphin, and many others. UCPC anticipates that replanting with native species in the proposed Old Oak Pond Ecological Restoration site may attract more native pollinators and other invertebrates, and in turn more songbirds, thus contributing to further enhancement of wildlife in the area.
Previous UCPC Restoration and Improvement Work
The proposed Old Oak Pond Restoration Project is UCPC’s most ambitious project to date, but is by no means our first. Since 2003 UCPC has conducted numerous restoration and improvement projects with a total cost of about $250,000. These include:
A $25,000 project to removal over a million pounds of concrete rubble that had been dumped in the South Ravine section of Udalls Cove Park over 50 years ago. The area was replanted with native trees and shrubs.
A $75,000 restoration project at another tract in the South Ravine section of Udalls Cove Park, near the Douglaston Firehouse, installing a rock-lined watercourse and stilling basin to prevent severe erosion from stormwater running off the nearby streets, removing invasive species, replacing topsoil, and planting native trees and shrubs.
A $6,000 project to install Belgian block curbing along a portion of Church Street between the Douglaston Firehouse and Udalls Cove Park, to better direct stormwater runoff to the above-referenced rock-lined watercourse.
A $29,000 project to remove invasives and replant with native species in a portion of the Virginia Point section of Udalls Cove Park.
A $13,000 project to install a stone screenings footpath at the boundary of Sandhill Road and Udalls Cove Park.
Projects totaling some $70,000 to installed hundreds of linear feet of attractive, heavy duty wooden guard rails along portions of Sandhill Road and Douglas Road abutting Udalls Cove Park; and installation of rustic split rail fences in four other locations along the park boundaries.
A $12,000 project to remove heavy debris left over from the commercial marinas that used to operate at what is now the Virginia Point section of Udalls Cove Park.
Multiple smaller forestry projects to remove fallen trees or tree limbs blocking trails throughout the park areas for which UCPC serves as a stewardship organization.
Most of the above listed projects were carried out by contractors hired by UCPC; many of them required permits from NYCDPR and/or NYSDEC. UCPC prepared the permit applications and ensured compliance with those permits.
UCPC works closely with youth organizations. To date we have sponsored 26 Boy Scout Eagle projects and three Life Scout projects, as well as one Girl Scout Gold project. (More scout projects are in the planning stages.) These projects have included installation of split rail fencing at the boundaries between roadways and Udalls Cove Park; construction or rehabilitation of trails; construction of wooden foot bridges over streams and wooden walkways over muddy sections of trail; removal of invasive species; and planting of appropriate native trees.
Trail Maintenance: UCPC volunteers maintain nearly a mile of trails located in the various sections of Udalls Cove Park and the portions of Alley Pond Park for which UCPC also serves as the park stewardship organization. Our volunteers regularly trim back the overgrowth from the sides of the trails; and often clear trees that fall and block the trails.
Cleanups: In the spring of every year since 1970, UCPC has held a cleanup of the shoreline, wetlands and woodlands around the Douglaston, Little Neck and Great Neck portions of the Little Neck Bay watershed. These cleanups usually involve 75 to 100 volunteers, and typically result in filling a 30-cubic yard dumpster provided by NYCDPR.
Community Support: Since its creation in 1969, UCPC has enjoyed strong support for its mission and activities from the local community, with nearly 200 dues-paying member households. UCPC also enjoys support from numerous other local civic organizations including the Douglaston Civic Association, the Douglas Manor Association, the Westmoreland Association, and the Little Neck Pines Association; from local environmental stewardship and education organizations including the Alley Pond Environmental Center, the Friends of Alley Pond Park, and the Douglas Manor Environmental Association; and from local educational institutions including PS-94, PS-98, the Divine Wisdom Academy, MS-67, Cardozo High School and Great Neck South High School. Over the past 55 years we have also had strong bipartisan support from our elected officials at the City and State level. We have a very good working relationship with the NYCDPR. We have also worked well with NYSDEC, the NY State Department of Parks and Historic Preservation, and the NY State Department of Children and Family Services; each of these state agencies has provided grants for Udalls Cove Park land acquisition, and/or for UCPC restoration, improvement and environmental education projects.
Grants Management: UCPC has experience applying for and managing grants from government sources including New York City and New York State, and from private foundations and business entities such as Consolidated Edison and Home Depot. As noted above, over the past two decades we have successfully carried out projects costing about $250,000; many of these were funded through such grants.