On Memorial Day weekend, the Village of Irvington plans to reopen Matthiessen Park with an assortment of new amenities, and without the “residents only” policy that had been the subject of debate in recent years.
Citing social justice concerns, the board of trustees voted unanimously to lift that restriction at their April 19 meeting. Since 2019, village residents, including members of the progressive Irvington Activists, had urged the board to end the nonresident ban, referring to it as exclusionary and offensive.
In their discussion, the trustees and mayor noted that there was no longer a reason to keep out nonresidents. Recent research into Ralph Matthiessen’s gift of the parkland to the village in 1945 revealed that the deed did not, as previously believed, limit access to Irvington residents.
In November 2020, the board reached consensus about working toward admission for all. Since then, village officials and members of the Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee (RPAC) explored how other municipalities handle similar facilities that welcome everyone.
“I think we’ve found from our research that good management can enhance a well-run park,” Mayor Brian Smith said, adding that opening the park to the general public would also allow the Village to apply for grants for park amenities such as a stage, a police boat dock, and new bathrooms.
Since early 2020, the park has been closed for renovations, including the construction of a new playground and splash pad, installation of wider pathways, and the remodeling of bathrooms.
Before the board voted, several residents called into the virtual meeting, which was held on Zoom. Some had concerns about quality-of-life issues such as litter, noise, parking, and safety, as well as additional costs to taxpayers.
But Arlene Burgos, a lawyer of Puerto Rican descent who is running for a trustee seat in November’s village election, had the opposite view. She talked about “what it’s like to be a person of color and not feel welcomed.” She said the past practice of “selective enforcement” of the admission rule was problematic. She also called objectors’ fears of “masses of people” coming to the park “irrational.”
The majority of callers supported opening the park, but there were concerns about how it would be carried out — for example, a gatekeeper at the entrance would not seem welcoming.
There will be additional new rules in effect when the park reopens. For the first time, visitors will be allowed to use bikes and scooters in the park. Before the renovation, the paths were too narrow.
“We want to allow the opportunity for family participation,” Recreation and Parks Superintendent Joe Archino told the board during a work session on April 14. “They’re going to want to bring their children down, bring their bikes, their scooters. No wheeled equipment will be allowed in the playground areas, but it can be used on the paths. Obviously, strollers would be allowed.”
Motorized vehicles will be banned. Users of bikes or scooters will be required to pass pedestrians on the left, and yield the right of way to pedestrians. Plus riders will be required to walk their bicycles and scooters down the hill inside the entrance to the park, and there will be no racing, speeding, and stunts allowed.
Other rules include no smoking or vaping, no fishing, no glass bottles, no tents, no drones, and no swimming. To allow swimming, Archino said, the Village would need a permit from the county Health Department, and would have to install buoys and employ a lifeguard.
The dogs-on-leash program will be discontinued, at least temporarily, while the parks department and RPAC gauge the impact of bikes and scooters. The parks department and RPAC will also set rules for group permits, including whether there will be preferential treatment for residents.
Smith said, “I have every confidence that RPAC can come up with solutions.”