New York Daily News
By Clem Richardson Thursday, September 29th, 2005
Tupper Thomas remembers the bad old days in Prospect Park.
This was in the late '70s and much of the '80s, when the
city's fiscal woes were made manifest in the giant park
by dilapidated equipment, graffiti, crime, litter, algae-choked
lakes and expanses devoid of people.
"Everybody was terrified of Prospect Park," said
Thomas, who was appointed the park's administrator in 1980. "I
remember going around to several schools with a park ranger
and telling the principals that if they brought their schoolchildren
to the park, I would assign them their own personal ranger
to make sure nothing happened to them."
That was then. Let's talk about now. Today Prospect Park
hosts some 7 million visitors annually, thanks in no small
part to what Thomas estimates is more than $100 million
in public and private funds spent sprucing Frederick Law
Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's vision under her watch.
to believe, but dogs deserve a lot of the credit. Even
the threat of muggings never kept Brooklyn dog owners
out of the 585-acre park. But they were more than a bit
rattled when, in 1982, the Parks Department started ticketing
owners who let their dogs roam city parks off their leashes.
Irate owners found their way to Thomas' office. "They
were screaming at me," said Thomas, herself a canine
fancier. "They said, 'Why are you doing this? We're
the only ones out there.'" Thomas came up with a policy
which is still in effect today: dogs can run without a
leash in the Long Meadow and Nethermead areas from 9 p.m.
to 9 a.m. every day.
simple accommodation was a mini-catalyst that helped
turn things around, Thomas said. "That dog group became
a symbol that it was safe to come to the park," Thomas
said. "It made an enormous difference. Runners started
seeing people in the park, so people started running in
the park rather than around it. 'Over time, because there
were people coming to the park, the park came back to the
people." That dog owners group (FIDO - Fellowship
in the Interest of Dogs and their Owners) is still very
active in park affairs.
"You can't separate the renaissance of Prospect Park
from Tupper's tenure there," said city Parks and Recreation
Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "They go hand
in hand. "She has a real talent for building consensus," added
Benepe, a longtime colleague of Thomas who started with
the department in 1979 as a ranger in Central Park. "If
you were inventing the modern park administrator with 360-degree
vision and all the necessary abilities, that person would
look a lot like Tupper Thomas."
"When I took the job, I thought there was no place
to go but up," Thomas laughed. Thomas, who lives in
Park Slope, rides her bicycle in the park at 6:30 a.m.
each morning as daughter Phaedra rollerblades alongside.
Her other daughter, Rachel, is an environmentalist living
in Costa Rica. Thomas said her objecticve always is to
make Prospect Park more accessible rather than less. "This
is Brooklyn's backyard," she said. "Most people
enter the park either through the Grand Army Plaza or the
Parkside entrances, which means many of them are coming
here on the subway, not walking over from Park Slope.
love that you come here on the weekend and all of Brooklyn
is here, every nationality. The idea is always to make
the park more available to people who want to use it,
Almost all of the park, including the Picnic House, the
Boat House, the 11th St. Bandshell, its picturesque archways,
including the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch at Grand
Army Plaza, has been renovated. Thomas said they they are
about $10 million short of the money needed to rehabilitate
the Wollman ice-skating rink so it can be used year-round.
Still, Thomas said she feels her greatest accomplishment
is the 1987 creation of the Prospect Park Alliance, a public-private
partnership between the city, the Parks Department and
a bevy of civic and community groups charged with raising
and maintaining an endownment for the park so it can never
fall into disrepair again. Thomas is chairman of the Alliance.
Alliance's success in raising money is a tribute to Thomas'
skills as a motivator. "Unlike the Central
Park Conservancy, she did not have Fortune 500 companies
to the south and wealthy people surrounding Prospect Park
that she could turn to for money," he said. "She
didn't do it by herself. She has a great staff and a wonderful
board of directors. But it is still impressive how much
money she raised. "I am most proud of the Alliance," Thomas
said. "It makes no difference what you put in place
if two years after you are gone everything falls to pieces.
With the Alliance in place, Prospect Park will always be
The Alliance will honor Thomas on Oct. 14 with a Prospect
Park Silver Jubilee celebration in her honor. The event
will be held in a tent set up in the Long Meadow. For information
about the Jubilee, call (718) 965-8898 or visit www.ProspectPark.org online for information.
For Fido in Prospect Park: www.fidobrooklyn.org