The battle over QueensWay - the name given the proposed park that would be built on top of a 3 1/2-mile stretch of track from Rego Park to Ozone Park - began for real last week.
On one side is the Trust for Public Land, a national advocacy group that has backed more than 50 rails-to-trails projects around the country.
The Friends of the QueensWay, a local group working the Trust to promote the idea of creating a long, narrow park for bikers and hikers from the rusty remains of the former Rockaway Beach rail line, began holding a series of workshops last week in neighborhoods around the project.
On the other side are the residents of a four-block stretch of 98th Street in Woodhaven, south of Forest Park, who are giving surprisingly literal meaning to the acronym "NIMBY" - Not in My Backyard.
The tracks of the old rail line - out of use since the 1960s - run right through the backyards along 98th Street. Homeowners who once worried only about security in front of their homes suddenly are confronted with the prospect of a parade of strangers behind them as well.
"When I say border, I mean that literally," one 98th Street resident, identified as Ivy H., wrote on the online "idea" board the Friends of Queensway set up last month. "Our property lines end where the so-called park begins. No street, no sidewalk, nothing separates us."
Of the 177 homes on 98th Street, 118 signed a petition earlier this year to stop the project, then organized a group called No Way QueensWay to fight the project.
Last winter, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the Trust nearly $500,000 to research and write a feasibility study for the project that would be Queens' answer to Manhattan's popular High Line. The report is due in August or September, officials say.
"I think that petition should be in the feasibility study," says Neil Giannelli, an aide to State Senator Joe Addabbo and who also lives on 98th Street. "But I'll be surprised if it is."
Some 200 people showed up for the first workshop last week at Emmanuel Christ Church in Woodhaven, according to Marc Matsil, director of the Trust for Public Land's New York State office. The church is a few blocks from 98th Street.
The meetings were dubbed "workshops" rather than hearings because, as Giannelli put it, "the presumption was if you were there, you were for it."
A community affairs officer from the 102nd Precinct was stationed at the meeting "to shut us down" when the No Way QueensWay people tried to speak, Giannelli said. "They have $1.5 million and somehow we're the bullies."
Two more workshops - at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning High School in Forest Hills and Ozone Park Senior Center in Jamaica - were scheduled for this week.
So far, the debate over QueensWay has been as much about the motives and home addresses of those pushing for the project as it is about the potential value of the new-style park.
The Trust for Public Land is based in San Francisco and a longtime charity of choice for celebrities like Caroline Kennedy, who was honorary chair of the group's most recent fundraiser last September on Park Avenue, where "Law & Order" star Sam Waterston was the master of ceremonies. Names like that raise a lot of mistrust along 98th Street.
"Please, QueensWay planners," Ivy H. wrote on the project's comment board. "Tell me where you live so that I may cook up schemes for public access, events, sports, food trucks(!) - right in your backyards."
So far, No Way's David vs. Goliath story has not traveled well beyond 98th Street. In other neighborhoods that border the proposed park, especially to the north, QueensWay has a lot of fans.
The fact that the path runs through "your backyard does not give you a veto over valuable public land," replied one commenter from Rego Park, identified as PeterB4.
"I live in an apartment just a couple blocks from this space," he wrote. "I don't have the luxury of a backyard. So why are you denying me and my children a park and bikeway, a completely reasonable use for this land."
The No Way people talk about a possible compromise with the Trust: end Queensway at Forest Park and leave the southern half of the rail line as is.
But that would end the dream of the Queensway planners to create a route that would eventually connect central Queens to the Rockways and the parks there.
"They didn't like the idea," says Giannelli.
The loud fireworks are not expected to begin until late this year or early next, after the feasibility study, which is expected to include drawings, cost estimates and a security plan, is completed.
That is when the community boards must hold public hearings and give their recommendations. The new borough president, Melinda Katz, has so far has not taken a public position on QueensWay.