The opening of the Strathmore Eco-Park was a beautiful experience for all, despite the cold, rainy spring day. This past Sunday, May 3, the Village of Great Neck opened its very first village park, an "eco-park," a passive park with native vegetation, a boardwalk, beautiful views, and a path, "Zachy's Path," that wanders through the park in honor of the memory of a very special, very brave little boy, Zachary Portnoy.
Mayor Ralph Kreitzman and Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth had poignant words as they dedicated "Zachy's Path."
The park was built without any taxpayer dollars, through a county grant and funds from a state-mandated village park fund.
Following a ribbon cutting, the large crowd of friends, neighbors and local public officials joined village officials in the first "walk in the park." Village Mayor Ralph Kreitzman, joined by Deputy Mayor Mitchell Beckerman and trustees Mark Birnbaum and Jeffrey Bass (Edna Guilor-Segal was home recuperating from an auto accident), along with Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth and the Portnoy family, welcomed one and all and told the story of this unique park.
Mayor Kreitzman explained that the village acquired the property in the 1930's and, until about 20 years ago, used it as a transfer station for leaves, wood and street sweeping. As a member of the Strathmore Civic Association over 30 years ago, the mayor had long petitioned the village to transform this "dump" into a passive park. "So, it was a long time, but, I believe it was worth the wait," Mayor Kreitzman said.
The mayor further explained that "the concept for the park is based on our relationship to water, and its connection to this site through flowing streams, rolling waves, nautilus shapes, bridges and overlooks." Continuing, he said that "The boardwalk undulates like waves alongside the stream ... the rolling wave field of earth berms fills in the open areas of the park ... the circular area of the boardwalk is based on the Golden Spiral, which is a form found in natural objects, such as the nautilus shell ... and the mathematical proportions were often used by artists like Leonardo Da Vince, to create pleasing compositions."
The park is considered an eco-park for several reasons. First, there was as little as possible disturbance of the land and most of the work was done by hand. All trees, shrubs, grasses and even the weeds are native. The boardwalk planking is made of Cumuru, a Brazilian hardwood that is grown specifically for commercial harvesting, without depleting the natural supply found in rain forests.
Mayor Kreitzman emphasized that "it is important that no village taxpayer dollars were spent building the park." A sum of $250,000 was funded from the 2004 Nassau County $25MM Environmental Bond, the first funds that were not used for county purposes. The balance came from the Village of Great Neck's Park Fund, which was accumulated over many years from payments from people who subdivided property. This was all in accordance with state law.
A very special, very poignant part of the ceremony included the dedication of "Zachy's Path," a path that wanders around the north side of the park before connecting with the boardwalk near its end. Mayor Kreitzman spoke of the young Zachy: "Zachary Portnoy was a charming young boy, who lived just a few houses away. He was stricken with a horrible illness that he valiantly fought but could not beat. His battle and his charm and positive attitude should be an inspiration to us all."
Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth noted: "It is so fitting that a portion of the park be named in Zachy's memory. It is a tribute to a wonderful little boy who, along with his family, showed amazing spirit and courage at a time of great adversity."
Legislator Bosworth also spoke of the significance of the eco-park, stating, "The park itself is representative of the wisdom of the people of Nassau County who understand the importance of preserving open space. How wonderful that a portion of the Nassau County 2004 Environmental Bond was used to help develop this area for future generations to enjoy. We are grateful to Mayor Kreitzman and the other Village of Great Neck trustees for their leadership and advocacy in this endeavor."
Mayor Kreitzman then pointed to the poem at the entrance to "Zachy's Path," and asked Zachy's mother, Robin Portnoy, to read the poem she had written for her child: "In memory of an angel
A little boy who lived next door
Whose beautiful smile lit up our lives
Whose love filled our hearts with joy
And whose laughter filled our lives with happiness."
Joining Robin Portnoy were her husband, Kevin, their other three sons, Ben (Zachy's twin brother), Jacob and Matthew, Zachy's grandparents, and a whole host of loving family and friends.
Robin, with heart-felt appreciation for the beautiful park and the special dedication for her little boy, lifted everyone's spirits when she said she was so sure that Zachy's spirit could be felt in this peaceful place where he used to play, just down the street from his home.
The Strathmore Eco-Park was designed and developed by Bob Retnauer of Retnauer (Design) Associates, landscape architects. Both DEC and Army Corps of Engineers permits were required and were obtained with the assistance of EEA Associates, environmental consultants. The construction and most of the plantings were done by Galvin Brothers, with much actual work done by the village's Department of Public Works.