Willow Lake Playground
Willow Lake Playground draws its name from nearby Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Willow Lake, like adjacent Meadow Lake, was created by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981) for the 1939-40 World’s Fair. Willow Lake’s surface area originally measured 47 acres, but after the 1964 World’s Fair the lake began to revert to the wetland from which it had been created. In 1976 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation designated it a protected freshwater wetland.
A willow is any plant belonging to the genus Salix, with buds, catkins, and spear-shaped leaves. The Willow Lake Natural Area features the white willow (Salix alba), the goat willow (Salix caprea), the weeping willow (Salix babylonica), and the pussy willow (Salix discolor). Thanks to this varied vegetation, the Willow Lake area is a popular spot for bird lovers.
Willow Lake Playground serves the neighborhood of Forest Hills in Queens. Forest Hills was once farmland owned by Frederick Backus, George Backus, and Horatio N. Squires. Its name is derived from its proximity to Forest Park, and much of the development in Forest Hills was a result of the opening of the Long Island Rail Road station in 1906, as well as trolley service along Queens Boulevard. In 1936, the Independent subway line opened at Union Turnpike.
The site for Willow Lake Playground, located on Grand Central Parkway between 71st and 72nd Avenues, was acquired on June 14, 1951 by condemnation, and the playground opened on May 17, 1955. Willow Lake Playground was the 634th playground to be constructed during Robert Moses’ 26-year term as Parks Commissioner. Located next to P.S. 196, Parks & Recreation and the Department of Education jointly operate this playground, which serves the school as well as the surrounding neighborhood.In 2004, Parks & Recreation completed a $1.4 million renovation here funded by Council Member Morton Povman. The work included the installation of steel play equipment and safety surfacing, a new basketball backstop, kindergarten swings, new benches, and game tables.