FEW KNOW NATURE OF TIVOLI PARK URBAN WILDERNESS HIDES IN ARBOR HILL

Alida D. Clemans Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: C1

Date: Sunday, June 29, 1986

"Look, a chimney swift," Michael Matthews said, pointing into the bright June sky. He raised binoculars to his face, but the small, black bird had already flown into nearby cottonwood trees.


Down the road, not far from the lake, a robin nibbled on a blooming mulberry bush. "Birds really go for this," Matthews said. The setting - a narrow dirt road that winds like ribbon around a lake and green countryside - is not in the country at all. It's in the heart of Albany at a place many people know little about.


"Most people don't realize what they have in their own back yards," said Matthews, urban specialist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Tivoli Lakes Urban Wildlife Park is in Arbor Hill directly behind Philip Livingston Middle School.


With all its country ambience, Tivoli Park has some distinctly urban troubles.


As the road winds gently around a corner, the sun shines on one of the park's most unattractive - and problematic - features. Covering the grass and flowers is a huge heap of garbage: a destroyed roll-out couch, a seatless chair, mounds of foam rubber, old sweat socks and a smashed television set.


Although motor vehicles are forbidden in the park (violators are subject to a $500 penalty and 15 days in jail), Matthews said people simply drive in, dump their garbage and leave. The city has recently chained the front entrance in hopes of deterring such activity.


Vandals have also set the cattails around the lake on fire and have attempted to cut down several trees, said Matthews.


Tivoli Park consists of a main lake and adjoining wetlands with an abundance of mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish, bird and plant life.


Matthews has played a major part in restoring the 83-acre wildlife preserve, which he said was the first of its kind in the nation.


In 1974, Eric Fried, who then held Matthews' position at the state, led a push to restore the long-neglected Tivoli Park. One afternoon, Fried's wife Joanna was walking with her three young children in the Arbor Hill neighborhood when she stumbled upon Tivoli Lake, Matthews said.


"When she came home, she told Eric about this neat place she had discovered and he set the wheels in motion from there," he said.


Fried had already been thinking about beginning a new kind of park - a park without baseball fields or picnic tables or swing sets. He just hadn't found the right place. "Tivoli fit the mold," Matthews remembered.


So Fried decided to restore Tivoli Park, which had been first established as a nature sanctuary in 1957. Fried wanted to see how well wildlife parks would survive in an urban atmosphere.


The following year the idea was proposed to Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd and an agreement was drawn up between state and the city. With the help of a $400,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the entire area was cleaned up.


Created in 1851, Tivoli Lake and a nearby pond were originally part of the city's water supply system, but were abandoned before the turn of the century. After years of neglect, the city in 1957 christened the area Tivoli Lakes Nature Study Sanctuary. Again, the nature area fell into decay to the point where The Times Union printed a mock obituary for it in 1974.


Now, more than a decade later, Tivoli Park still hasn't attracted the attention Matthews and the state had hoped it would. "No one has really picked up on Tivoli," he said.


"There's a lot of potential here. We want to get more people down here and get them familiar with the park. It's a real good way to get them interested in wildlife," he said.


Asked whether the area surrounding the park discourages people from visiting it, Matthews said "that's a misconception. I've never run into any trouble." Nevertheless, the city's four new park rangers will be keeping a watch on the grounds.


"But no one is going to take an interest in Tivoli until the residents here do. If we don't get people in cities like Albany to think about their resources, we might as well kiss them goodbye," he said, looking around the grounds as he speaks.


Matthews has asked teachers at neighboring Philip Livingston Middle School to try to interest students in Tivoli's wildlife - which includes such creatures as red-winged black birds, opossums, snapping turtles and an "occasional deer," and such vegetation as trees of heaven and jewelweed. Nature walks and birds watches have also been organized.


"We want more and more people to come out and use Tivoli Park," Matthews said.