Fracas Over Park Tours

The NY Times
New York Day by Day
April 1, 1986
By Susan Heller Anderson and David W. Dunlap
Fracas

A sting operation was mounted over the weekend, not in a darkened alley or smoke-filled room, but in the sunlight of Central Park.

Park rangers, disguised as ordinary folks. took the tour offered by Steve Brill. who gives walking lectures on the edible plants there. The group was made up 11 members of the Columbia University Earth Coalition, an environmental organization, and the two rangers.

The rangers paid $20 each, in marked bills. At the end of the tour, Mr. Brill was arrested by parks-enforcement patrol officers, handcuffed, searched and transported to the Central Park Precinct, on the 86th Street transverse.

“It's a violation of park regulations,” the Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Henry J. Stern, said. "You don't want people eating up your park."

Mr. Brill violated section 145 of the Penal Code and Park Regulations 6, 16 and 29, for several offenses, Mr. Stern said. He received a desk-appearance ticket and was not booked.

“He dug up various plants,” one of the two rangers, Lynn A. Sampsell, said, “among them sassafras tree saplings, wild carrots, winter cress, cattails. He picked daylily shoots.”

“We dug up roots that are extremely plentiful,” Mr. Brill said. He added that he thought Mr. Stern was mad, because “I’m the competition — I lead my own walks.”

“Not so,” Mr. Stern said. “We'd welcome him if he did not destroy plants. We'd be happy to license him for these tours.”

The people in the Earth Coalition fear Mr. Stern might put an end to Mr. Brill's walks. “We've gone along with the expeditions, to learn about edible plants and how to preserve them,” Prof. David E. Shaw of Columbia said. “That's the irony.”

Mr. Stern simply wants Mr. Brill to stop picking. “If everyone keeps picking,” the Commissioner said, “there’ll be nothing left to pick.”