Syracuse okays parks conservancy

City Hall voted unanimously to implement a Syracuse Park Conservancy (SPC) on Monday Sept. 28. Eastwood resident and Sunnycrest Park board member Mike Behnke said he was honored to be named its first president.

A conservancy is a private non-profit citizens' group that works together with the city's Park and Recreation Department toward a more vibrant and active parks system. Its goal is to aid in maintaining the parks through proper planning and fund raising for additional moneys to keep the parks up and functioning.

"Rory McMahan with the city's Law Department was very helpful," Behnke said of what he called a long and winding road.

The committees will be formed at the first meeting of the SPC on Thursday Oct. 22 at the Palace Theatre in Eastwood.

The SPC would like to see each neighborhood that surrounds a city park, form a park's association. This way the neighbors can be active in the park's maintenance and utilization. There are already such groups at Onondaga Park, Thorndon, Sunnycrest and more.

The idea of the SPC came out of the very active Sunnycrest Park Association. Behnke said one of their members, John Mariani, explained what these volunteers do very well when he said, "See that moon up there, what we do is take care of the dark side."

Behnke said most of Syracuse's parks were formed when the population was much greater. The SPC will also need to engage the immigrant population in Syracuse and welcome it into the parks. For example, Vietnamese youths are playing soccer in open green space on Lodi Street in their north side neighborhood that is really Rosehill Cemetery, where Syracuse's first mayor is buried. It's essentially hallowed ground, meanwhile there is open green space unused in many of the City's parks.

Behnke who hails from Jersey City via the Bronx said seven years ago he couldn't tell one tree from another. Now firmly planted in Syracuse he was watching the recent Ken Burns National Parks Series on PBS and thought, "They were people like me."

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