EXCLUSIVE: Exercising their rights?

August 23, 2012 Denise Romano
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A group of fitness buffs, aged 14 to 59, are wondering why they are not allowed to work out in the calisthenics area of Russell Pedersen Playground.

Every morning at 9 a.m. for the past three years, nearly 10 people – among them teachers, professionals and students, most of whom are graduates from Fort Hamilton High School – meet at the area to exercise.

But last week, a resident called the police, claiming that there should be no adults in the playground.

“We had a resident who came inquiring about what we were doing,” explained Joseph Estrella, a resident of Sunset Park. “He said we were intimidating parents from bringing kids.”

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Bay Ridge resident Joe Feldman said that what the group is doing is “against the law. It’s a felony for them to be in a kiddie park without a kid,” he said. “They come in and set up with gym equipment and they are not supposed to be there. A Pre-K class tried to come in and use the park and they wouldn’t let them. These guys think they own it.”

Nonetheless, the calisthenics part of the park seems to be designed for adults. There are parallel bars and monkey bars over seven feet high. It is also separate from any sort of child’s play area. The part where the group works out is nearly 20 feet away from the playground and sprinkler area, separated by trees, benches and grassy areas.

When this paper visited the area on a Friday morning, there were senior citizens in the park, quietly reading on benches within the area designated for children’s play. But, a sign outside the entire playground area does have rules, which prohibit, “Adults except in the company of children,” among other things.

Feldman said that the Police Department should enact the laws. “They should confiscate the equipment and write them summonses if they are going to keep coming back,” he said.

“In the meantime, neighborhood people should climb on the monkey bars. That’s what the kiddie park is for,” Feldman went on. “It’s ridiculous, telling people, ‘No you can’t come in here with your kids in the park.’”

According to Philip Abramson, a spokesperson for the Parks Department, the agency “will make it clear that the signage indicating that adults may only enter the playground in the company of a child is posted at the children’s play area,” he told this paper. “We are also communicating with the NYPD about the distinction between the children’s play area and the rest of the playground.”

Estrella and his group said they do not understand how they are bothering anyone when they exercise.

“We understand if we had music, were cursing or had open containers, but with the level of obesity in this country, how can you complain that there are too many people in the park,” Estrella said, adding that Russell Pedersen is one of the only parks in the area with fitness equipment. “We don’t want to have to travel out to Gravesend or Bensonhurst.”

Aubrey Canna, a 16-year-old Bay Ridge resident, has been working out with the group for the past two weeks. “It’s kind of absurd that we can’t do what we do here,” he said.

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