Man Who Ate Manhattan
Parks Muzzle Weed Maven

NY Daily News
Tuesday, April 1, 1986
By James Harney

"Wildman" Devours Wild Onion

Steve Brill displays dining style in Queens park.

Photo by Carmine Donofrio

It had all the earmarks of yet another major undercover probe: plainclothes operatives, marked bills, surveillance cameras and a suspect ripping off the city-literally.

The target: Not Stanley Friedman or Michael Lazar, but a self-styled edible-herb specialist, Steve (Wildman) Brill.

His crime: Snatching and eating dandelion greens from the meadows of Central Park.

The chief investigator: Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, who just couldn't stomach the idea of anyone, in his words, "eating our parks."

For five years, Brill, a 37-year-old Queens ecologist, has been taking groups on park nature walks, encouraging them to pick and eat such edible greenery as dandelions, (whatever they are) and raspberries. (He insists they grow in the parks.)

Brill generally charges $15 or $20 per person, and until 1983, he says, the Parks Department approved his course on eating in Central Park at prices far lower than Tavern on the Green. But that year, according to Brill, Stern began refusing to grant him his permits to pick weeds legally. Brill insists there are such permits.

"Steve Brill charges people $20 to take them around and have them cut our plants and flowers," says Stern. "It's not allowed. We asked him to stop, but he wouldn't stop."

And so, last Saturday, two undercover urban park rangers paid Brill $40 in marked bills, infiltrated his tour and took pictures of him at work.

As the tour broke up, two officers arrested Brill on a charge of criminal mischief. He was whisked to the Central Park station house, fingerprinted and made to cool his heels for three hours before being given a desk appearance ticket to appear in court April 18.

A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, perhaps waiting for the case to ripen, declined comment.

"It's bullying," says Brill. "Stern should know that the more dandelions you pick, the more grow back. I'll keep taking my classes to the parks."

Stern says his policy is: "Please don't eat the daisies-or the dandelions. It's against the law."