Tackling Invasives at New York City’s Biggest Park

ConSERVE NYC Volunteers Restore the Bronx Waterfront

SCA teamed up with the NYC Parks Natural Areas Volunteers and the Appalachian Mountain Club this weekend to clear almost an acre of invasive species from New York City’s largest park.

On Saturday, 70 volunteers gathered at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx for June’s ConSERVE NYC event, celebrating Great Outdoors Month and SCA Founder’s Day. Fifty-seven years ago this month, Liz Titus Putnam founded the Student Conservation Association and the first crews of volunteers hit the trail in Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks. Over half a century later, SCA has a nationwide network of 75,000 alumni and counting…. including thriving programs in urban areas like New York City.

This month’s ConSERVE NYC project brought volunteers to Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx to tackle invasive species along the Siwanoy Trail. After meeting up at Orchard Beach, volunteers set off into the woods to dig up Japanese knotweed and pull out Mile-a-Minute vine suffocating native species along the trail.

The day’s participants included students from Columbia University, St. John’s University, Vassar College, Queens College, City College, SUNY Buffalo, the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science, Park East High School, and William C. Bryant High School. “I love how everyone has a different approach,” said Katy Boula, a Natural Areas Volunteers leader with NYC Parks. “These kids will do whatever it takes to get to those toughest vines.”

High school volunteer Sam Willner – who will be serving on SCA’s Youth Conservation Corps in NYC this summer – had a system. “First, you have to find the perfect stick,” he said, showing off a pronged branch he had retrieved from the forest floor. “Then you reach in and hook the Mile-a-Minute vine, and just twist! The stick does all the work.” He demonstrated by deftly spooling out an armful of Mile-a-Minute, then flinging it onto the growing pile of invasives ready to be hauled away.

By the end of the morning, participants had removed 32,670 square feet of Mile-a-Minute and Japanese knotweed, leaving almost an acre of cleared ground where native species could thrive. Participants emerged from the woods to enjoy a picnic lunch along the waterfront of Long Island Sound. Then many students changed into swimsuits to enjoy a well-earned afternoon of sun and surf on Orchard Beach.

“This was the best ConSERVE event so far,” said Amosh Neupane, who has attended every ConSERVE project since the initiative kicked off in October. Like most of the day’s participants – many of whom hailed from Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, or New Jersey – Amosh had never visited Pelham Bay Park before the event. But he hopes to come back and volunteer again, and SCA is connecting volunteers with future ways to be involved. As part of the day’s program, Appalachian Mountain Club volunteer leader Kate Bukofzer shared information on AMC’s regular hikes and trailwork events at the park, and NYC Parks Environmental Service Director Brian Aucoin shared ways to get involved with the Natural Areas Volunteers (NAV) program, which trains volunteers to adopt and maintain park spaces around the city.

“One of SCA’s goals with the ConSERVE NYC initiative is to introduce volunteers to parks they may never have visited before,” said Ann Pedtke, SCA’s NYC Outreach Coordinator. “Many of our volunteers find places they love and keep coming back. We’re empowering young people to take ownership of their local green spaces.”

See more photos from the June event at Pelham Bay Park.

As part of the ConSERVE NYC initiative, SCA hosts public service events each month to engage the conservation community and build resiliency in New York City’s public lands. Stay tuned for details on the next event at www.thesca.org/events.