John Kilcullen, director of the 267-acre Conference House Park, took us on a guided tour of its grounds and the proposed Living Breakwaters site. As we made our way along the winding paths, John, an arborist by training, and a former Senior Forester with the New York City Parks Department,pointed out the abundance of fauna and flora, including the Northern Hackberry tree, which thrives on the calcium-rich, shell-strewn soils near the shoreline, attracting a wide variety of bird species. We walked a trail along the little-known Lenape Indian burial ground (the largest in the city), and took in the shoreline vistas that make the site unique among the city’s parks.
John isoverseeing a capital improvement program for the park that includes the preservation and (hopefully) restoration of its historic built structures and their adaptive re-use. He fervently hopes that The Living Breakwaters project will draw the residents of Tottenville into a more active engagement with the park that sits in their own backyard. He also envisions the project-related infrastructure investments will raise the park’s visibility as a destination for residents citywide. “Sandy is making everyone rethink the waterfront,” John explained.