Alley Pond Park
Gertrude Waldeyer Promenade at Oakland Lake
This promenade bears the name of Gertrude Waldeyer (1908–1987), an active member of the Bayside community. Born in Brooklyn, Waldeyer studied at Hunter College and later received her Master of Arts from Queens College. After marrying in 1931, she moved to Bayside, where she became an educator and environmentalist.
Waldeyer worked as a teacher and administrator at Bayside High School, and was a member of Community Board 11 and the Bayside Historical Society. She is remembered most for organizing a grass-roots effort to preserve Oakland Lake for future generations through the Oakland Lake and Ravine Conservation Committee, which she helped found.
In the 1930s, Works Project Administration (WPA) workers lined the brook feeding Oakland Lake with blocks, and later, the brook and a small pond leading into the lake were filled. In 1941 officials from the Sanitation and Health Departments worked with WPA workers to fill in nearby wetlands in an attempt to control the mosquito population. Three thousand people were put to work at nine Queens sites laying pipes, digging drainage ditches, and filling in and grading low areas. The result was the destruction of the area’s fragile marshland ecosystem. As Queens grew, encroaching urbanization also threatened the lake. The construction of a nearby school, the Queensborough Community College, and the widening of Springfield Boulevard on the lake’s western shore all took their toll on the lake’s health.
In the 1960s, community groups, citing Alley Pond’s rich cultural and environmental history, started a campaign to restore Alley Pond Park. Residents suffered through urban planning that carved Bayside in two with highways and parkways that cut off the neighborhood from the waterfront along Little Neck Bay. In response to these changes in her community, Waldeyer crusaded passionately on behalf of Oakland Lake’s wildlife and woodlands.
In 1969, 2,000 people participated in a “Walk in the Alley” led by the Alley Restoration Committee. This group, which called for the improvement of natural resources like Oakland Lake, met with Parks Commissioner August Heckscher (1913–1997) and secured a commitment from Parks to speed up plans to rehabilitate the area. In 1972, Parks stabilized the slopes in the hills around the lake to control erosion and constructed a path and sitting area around the lake.
In 1987, the year of Waldeyer’s death, Parks spent nearly $1 million to restore Oakland Lake to its natural state. Parks planted new trees and shrubs to rebuild the depleted forest around the lake and began a program to reduce erosion around the lake’s shores. Before she died, Waldeyer helped map parts of the site that would qualify as freshwater wetlands under the New York State Freshwater Act (1975). In 1988, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation designated the Oakland Lake area a Significant Habitat, buttressing the Oakland Lake Committee and Waldeyer’s efforts to protect the lake.
In 1989, the lake’s promenade was named for Waldeyer at a ceremony attended by Waldeyer’s family, her colleagues from Bayside High School, and other preservationists. Waldeyer’s associates in the battle to restore the lake remembered her as someone who would rush out of her home in her nightgown at the sound of chainsaws threatening the environment. Waldeyer’s relatives recalled that even when she was too frail to leave her home, Waldeyer often looked out her bedroom window to gaze at “her glacial lake.”
One of the many wonderful, natural features in Alley Pond Park, the rescued and rehabilitated Oakland Lake is a perfect example of the strength of neighborhood and grassroots efforts to preserve the City’s precious natural environments. The Gertrude Waldeyer Promenade is a fitting tribute to a local hero who defended this beautiful site.
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