Meet a New Yorker for Parks

David Karopkin

August 7, 2012

By Erica Cooperberg, NY4P Communications Intern

We all have childhood treasures: a blanket, a doll, a piggy bank. For David Karopkin, it was Prospect Park.
“When I was little, I ran away from home,” he said. “I ran to Prospect Park.”
Living less than a mile from what he deemed “the best park in the city” for his entire life, Karopkin admitted he used to see his park through rose-colored glasses. “For most of my life, I took this for granted. Now, I have a new appreciation and care for what’s going on here.”
He’s demonstrated that appreciation through his participation in Wildlife Interests, Learning and Development (WILD) and GooseWatchNYC, two advocacy groups that promote humane treatment of wildlife in New York City parks.
His formal parks advocacy began in July of 2010 when Prospect Park, which is situated along an ancient migratory bird path, suddenly became devoid of waterfowl. To his dismay, Karopkin learned that the birds’ disappearance was part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture effort to reduce the Canada geese population, a contentious initiative resulting in the slaughtering of the animals administered following the “Miracle on the Hudson” incident in 2009. 

He found the unexpected loss of more than 300 Canada geese to be overwhelming. “I wasn’t sure what could be done,” he said. But he was comforted to find himself surrounded by advocates.
By working together, Karopkin and other supporters, including individuals from FIDO, the Fellowship in the Interests of Dogs and their Owners, made sure that every morning throughout the summer, while the geese were molting, someone was at the park taking a stand for the waterfowl.
“We had people out with cameras, ready to let the public know what happened if something happened,” Karopkin said.
After a successful summer of protecting the geese, WILD was born, with Karopkin as one of the five members of the steering committee. The community group focuses on the main threats to wildlife – feeding, fishing and litter – through lakeside education and outreach. From its very first event, Karopkin realized how challenging that work would be.
“We had all met at the boathouse by Prospect Park Lake, and a woman ran up to us and said there was something wrong with a duck,” Karopkin recalled. “We went over and it was swimming in circles. So we got the duck out of the water and found it was impaled by a fishing hook in its tongue – which was also attached to its leg.”
Though the volunteers rescued the duck, Karopkin said the situation made him wonder: “If that happened when we’re there, what happens when we’re not?”
Occasionally, Karopkin finds an unhappy answer to that question. Walking along the edge of the lake on a recent Monday, Karopkin grabbed a black plastic bag and gently shook it over the water.
“Many times we find fish trapped inside these,” he said.
Other times, volunteers just find trash discarded carelessly that later collects along the water’s edges. (WILD's most recent three-hour litter pick-up resulted in 15 full bags of trash.) 

“We find bottle caps, syringes, you name it,” Karopkin said as he pointed out a soda can floating on the lake.
While many simply consider litter an eyesore, Karopkin said it’s important to also think about the repercussions of careless park treatment on wildlife in Brooklyn’s most popular park.
“This zone is prohibited from barbequing,” he said, gesturing to the grassy area surrounding the lake. “But people do. And they dump their coal here, and then the grass dies. Then it rains and the coal remnants get washed into the water. And dogs can get sick from swimming in the lake.”
But with the help of numerous park groups, including dog walkers, runners and even a coalition of playground mothers, Karopkin can rest assured that the park is ultimately in good hands.
“I know that if I’m here and I see litter, I don’t have to go home and kick the wall, we can do something about it,” he said. “Instead of being upset, you can see possibilities that things can get better.”
The Prospect Park Alliance serves as an additional ally for WILD. 

“The Alliance has been very supportive of WILD’s efforts,” Karopkin said, adding that the Alliance often provides supplies and promotional assistance for WILD events.
"We have been very pleased to work with David and the rest of WILD for the past couple of years," Eric Landau, Vice President of Government and External Affairs at the Alliance, said. "We greatly appreciate their efforts to help preserve wildlife habitat and keep the park clean."  

WILD’s community partnerships aren't always with organized groups, though. “One of the best parts of WILD is meeting people around the lake, joining us, who didn’t have any intention to help when they first got to the park,” Karopkin said. “That’s a success.”
Another success? WILD’s reception by members of the park’s surrounding community, who often e-mail the group about wildlife issues.

“It’s a vehicle for people who care about wildlife and the environment,” Karopkin said. 
WILD is still new and small, with a modest core of about 20 advocates, and that means the group has limitations. But Karopkin is confident it will continue to gain supporters. 

“Everyone cares about clean parks, and no one wants to see an animal in distress,” he said.
He looked out to the lake on the recent afternoon. “We can’t say our work is done,” Karopkin said as he noticed a family of ducklings and got close to snap some pictures. “There is a habitat here we need to protect. But with willpower and common goals, we’ve seen how things can really happen.”