Tarrytown’s Neperan Park is about to get a welcome facelift, thanks to a group of Village residents who have formed an organization called Friends of Neperan Park. Calling on neighbors, students and Rivertown residents, the organization aims to improve the beauty and ecological value of this 1.5-acre patch of open space just a couple of blocks east of Broadway.
The park is already a hit with locals – especially dog owners. Rachel Tieger takes Sammi, her 13-year-old toy poodle, strolling there almost daily. “Sammi likes sniffing around the refuse bins and visiting her friends,” Tieger says. Fredo, a four-year-old cockapoo, is even more of a fixture; he does the rounds of the park four times a day. “Fredo loves the smell of the other dogs. People, he’s shy about,” reports owner Patti Zimka. Plenty of humans also make use of this quiet oasis, for walking, enjoying the plantings and catching up with friends. “It is a very social park for canines and humans alike,” says Tieger.
Neperan Park, Tarrytown’s only inner urban greenway, came about because of community activism, and has continued to benefit greatly from energetic volunteers. In the late 90s, developers proposed turning the site of the current park, which included three buildings, into 11 homes or a condominium development. At that time, however, Tarrytown had a building moratorium. Local activists lobbied for turning the space into a park, and in 2001 Village residents approved a bond for an Open Space Fund that would go towards purchasing property around Neperan and elsewhere. Because of legal wrangling, opposition from some Village residents, and problems raising funds, the park did not come into fruition until 2004. “When I was on the Village board, Paul Janos, Nick Morabito, Sher Chorost and I fought hard to have the Village purchase the property for open space rather than have the planned development built there,” recounts Susan Sincero. “It was well worth the effort!” Lifelong Tarrytown resident Patti Zimka agrees: “There’s so little green space in Tarrytown – creating Neperan Park is the greatest thing the Village ever did!”
The Village’s initial improvements included an elegant iron fence and gate on the Neperan Road side, tree and shrub plantings on the western and northern edges of the park, dog waste disposal dispensers and a circular crushed gravel path. Volunteers soon stepped up to beautify the park and diversify its vegetation. In 2008, two members of the Little Gardens of Tarrytown, Carolyn Swenson and Maribeth Bischof, orchestrated the creation of an attention-grabbing native plant garden at the Neperan Road entrance. Maintained by Little Gardens, the mixed border is a show-stopper in late summer and early fall when four to six-foot tall native plants bloom in striking tones of yellow, white and purple. The border, which contains over 35 species of plants, teems with life. Bright-colored goldfinches feed off the seed heads of coneflowers, swallowtail butterflies land on the Joe-Pye weeds, and bumble bees and other beneficial insects buzz about.
Around 2011, members of the Tarrytown Beautification Foundation planted dazzling red Knock Out roses along the Neperan side of the park. When she’s not walking her two bichon frises in the park, Foundation member Susan Sincero can often be found tending the shrubs there. “I water, weed, prune and spray with terribly foul smelling deer repellent that I mix up in my garage….and enjoy looking at the roses all summer,” she says. Last spring, Little Gardens, currently helmed by Monique Kozlowski, created a patch of rose-colored milkweed plants, intended to feed endangered monarch butterflies, in a remote corner of the park. Agents from the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester provided technical assistance for the plot and Parks Department employees did the heavy digging. In November, a group of volunteers, coordinated by Little Gardens, planted 2500 daffodil bulbs donated by Westover Landscape. Expect a spectacular display come March and April!
Friends of Neperan Park wants to build on these improvements. One goal is to reduce, through volunteer labor, the number of invasive plants threatening the trees and shrubs, especially the porcelain berry vines that are slowly strangling the doublefile viburnums at the north end of the park. The group also wants to focus attention on the neglected Hamilton Place side of the park. Whereas the Neperan park entrance boasts lovely iron grill work, rose bushes and a native plant garden, the Hamilton opening is marked by a weedy bed, a chain link fence, a crooked sign and swampy grounds colonized by wineberries, an invasive relative of raspberries. It looks like the poor relatives’ entrance to the park.
With appropriate plant donations, the Friends organization will be able to create a lush garden bed next to the Hamilton sidewalk that will make it clear that people are walking into a different kind of space; in other words, it will provide a grand entrance. The New York chapter of the American Fern Society has tentatively offered to provide ferns that would fill up a bed on the eastern edge of the entrance. The nearby wineberries would not be difficult to remove—volunteers could get rid of them in an afternoon—but would need to be replaced right away with attractive, native shade-tolerant shrubs that can withstand periodic flooding and thus reduce runoff into neighboring homes. Both summersweet (clethra) and red chokeberries (aronia) fit the bill and have the added bonus of providing food and shelter for birds, butterflies and bees.
Increasing the sense of community is an important goal of the Friends of Neperan Park. In early spring, the group intends to open a Facebook page that will provide a calendar of gardening events, photos of the park, links to ecology news and profiles of dogs and their walkers. As both a fund-raising and outreach effort, the organization has tentatively decided to hold a dog fair in the park this summer. “Friends” also expects to reach out to the larger park community in Westchester County. The organization is currently seeking affiliation with the Friends of Westchester County Parks, which would provide administrative services to the group and also give it nonprofit status, making donations tax-deductible. In Tarrytown, the wildly successful Friends of the RiverWalk, which holds four “appreciation” days a year for planting and weed removal on the Hudson River waterfront, is already part of the organization, while membership for Friends of Wilson Park is currently pending.
Friends of Neperan Park wants to take a green space that works well and make it work even better. If you want to become involved with any of the group’s activities, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.