Imagine strolling through the park. It’s around dusk, and the late summer sun is beginning to sink below the horizon, filling the sky with pinks and yellows like a Monet. You’re enjoying the feeling of the grass between your toes, when suddenly, you notice the ground is moving beneath you. You squint in the gloam, and realize the sensation under your feet isn’t the ground at all—it’s…the rats.
Residents of Queens’ Ozone Park have been terrorized in the past year by a surge of the furry disease bags, which are flocking in particular to the grounds of Vito Locascio Field. Victims say the rats have become so bold in their perambulations that they’re even out in the daytime, haunting the park’s restrooms and making life more disgusting for anyone hoping to use the field.
“At twilight, that’s when they peak — hundreds of them, schools of them running around over there,” Howard Beach resident James Kolm told NBC New York. “It’s very dangerous.”
Residents tell NBC that repeated, desperate calls to 311 for help have been ignored. One beleaguered neighbor said he’s constantly forced to “hose down his yard and spread bleach” in a Sisyphean battle against omnipresent feces.
Perhaps the damning report spurred the Parks Department to action, because when the Voice reached out on Thursday, a spokesperson reported that multiple efforts were in place to curb the rodent scourge: Not only was bait laid just this morning, but it will be laid once each week for the coming month, or until the problem subsides.
The agency also plans to swap out the park’s trash bins with special “rat-proof” cans with lids, and will take special care to rake up acorns and bird feed. (Visitors should also not feed the birds since that is, effectively, feeding the rats.)
Like people, rats seem to favor open spaces. In 2010, the city began keeping a rat index, and though Vito Locascio Field isn’t on it, other parks in Queens are. The property surrounding Jamaica’s King Manor Museum, for example, is steeped in deep crimson, indicating the highest degree of “active rat sighting severity.” Then again, so too is this block in the apogee of hip Bushwick, right next door to Happy Fun Hideaway. Take from that what you will.
The city’s very thorough rat portal (which sounds like something spookier than what it actually is: a website) offers a bounty of additional information on how to prevent rats from overtaking one’s parks and homes. The most effective solution is to ensure that garbage is contained, preferably in in a sealed bin. Vito Locascio is getting its rat-proof cans now, but it took a year of pleading and an NBC microwave van to the scene before any changes were made.
Many of Vito Locascio’s visitors would like to see a more aggressive measures taken. ”Get a couple of pounds of poison, that’s the end of that,” one said. It’s not THAT easy, but In July, the city’s health department launched a pilot program that deploys dry ice into rats’ burrows, which melts into carbon dioxide and suffocates them. The thinking is that dry ice is a less toxic alternative to poison, which can have an adverse impact on wildlife like red-tailed hawks. In April, one such hawk died in lower Manhattan after ingesting an anticoagulant rodenticide, sending the city searching for other solutions.
The agency said that so far, the tactic seems to be working, having reduced populations in Columbus Park, Tompkins Square Park, Seward Park and J. Hood Wright Park.
That said, if a toilet can’t end a rat, well, what hope is there?