Rockaway Tribute Park’s mission statement indicates that the park was not created as a memorial but rather to serve as a tribute to the 77 Rockaway residents, including 27 city firefighters, who died in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
The original idea for the park was to find a place for the community to reflect on lost loved ones and find some solace. The park’s chosen site was the triangle on the bay at Beach 116th Street, which was formerly an empty lot owned by the city Parks Department, a spot from which many Rockaway residents watched the Twin Towers burn and ultimately collapse.
Rockaway’s Tribute Park officially opened Nov. 6, 2005. Serving as an abiding symbol to Rockaway’s lost residents, each year a 9/11 memorial ceremony is hosted at the park and attended by residents, activists, relatives and dignitaries from across the New York area. However, in 2012, Tribute Park was not spared the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy throughout the Rockaways and the entire East Coast. The park, which had been carefully maintained by local residents, was severely damaged by the storm. Dolores Orr, president of Rockaway Beach Civic Association, said that while the park has rebounded since Sandy, there is still much more work that needs to be done.
“While Parks has done a great job on the aesthetics of the park, there is still a great deal of infrastructure issues as a result of Sandy, such as the need for a total replacement of electrical and irrigation systems; security cameras as well as fencing,” Orr noted.
Bernie Warnock, president of Friends of Tribute Park, agreed with Orr that the park is aesthetically in much better shape now than in a long time.
“The park looks beautiful,” Warnock said. But, he also agreed that major structural improvements are badly needed. “Damage from Sandy is still affecting the park’s underground irrigation system and the park’s lighting,” he said. “We need to rewire parts of the park.”
Warnock added that the problems are not as bad as they could be, and that over all Tribute Park is looking better these days. In fact, just last week the park hosted a full day of memorial ceremony activities including the raising of the flag and the participation of numerous members of the FDNY.
“I recently joined families and residents to commemorate the 13th anniversary of 9/11 at Tribute Park and was greatly impressed by the complete restoration of the park after Sandy,” Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park) said.
Goldfeder recalled that, “During Sandy, the park was severely damaged – bricks were uprooted and most of the plants and artwork that residents had spent years designing were destroyed overnight. With the help and support of devoted local volunteers, the Friends of Tribute Park replanted and repaired the space better than before for our families to enjoy for years to come.”
Other activities taking place at the park include the filming of an upcoming documentary called The Trees, which tells story of the WTC memorial grove. Additionally, numerous local schools, such as Scholar’s Academy and the Waterside School for Leadership have also visited Tribute Park to help volunteer their time and help with maintenance, cleaning and new planting.
For more information about Tribute Park, visit http://rockawaytributepark.org/
By Alan Krawitz