ConSERVE NYC Volunteers Brave Freezing Temperatures to Restore the Harlem River
On February 7th, ﬂurries were in the air and over a foot of snow already blanketed Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx. But that didn’t stop 65 volunteers from coming out to the riverfront for February’s ConSERVE NYC event.
Roberto Clemente State Park has played a major role in the restoration of the Harlem River. With neighboring green spaces slated to open this spring — Bridge Park to the south, and an expanded section of Roberto Clemente to the north — the park will give the public access to one of the longest uninterrupted stretches of waterfront on the Harlem River. With the reopening of High Bridge, park visitors will also have a direct pedestrian connection from the Bronx to Manhattan.
However, to prepare for these spring openings, tangles of invasive vines had to be cleared from the borders of the park — and SCA volunteers stepped up to the task despite freezing temperatures. Working at both ends of the park, participants cleared 26 cubic yards of invasive bittersweet and porcelainberry, freeing dozens of trees and 160 feet of fenceline from the vines’ strangling grasp. In the process, they opened sightlines to improve safety throughout the park and made way for native species to thrive come spring.
“This was our first winter service day,” said Park Manager Frances Rodriquez, “and I didn’t know how it would work out. But the fact that SCA was able to get so many great students out and get so much accomplished in weather like this was amazing! I think the snow even added to it.”
Participants included volunteers from AmeriCorps VISTA, buildOn, Global Kids, Columbia University, City College of New York, Bard High School, Harry S. Truman High School, Jericho High School, Park East High School, William C. Bryant High School, the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, and the International High School at Lafayette.
SCA also welcomed special guests from several partner organizations in New York City. John Butler, Trails Manager with Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, stepped in to lead the invasive removal effort. “Parks anywhere in the Bronx hold a special spot in my heart,” he said. Elizabeth Bowler and SCA alum Lauren Cosgrove of the National Parks Conservation Association also joined in the day, inviting volunteers to unite with NPCA in raising awareness for waterfront green spaces in New York City.
After a morning of working in whiteout conditions, volunteers gathered at the park visitor center to warm up with a hot lunch generously donated by Ray’s Pizza in Manhattan. But some volunteers — including members of SCA’s NYC Conservation Leadership Corps — couldn’t get enough of the snow. When the project was over, the park’s open glades offered perfect conditions for making snow angels and staging snowball fights.
“I came to the US two years ago from Bangladesh,” said high school student Steffy Rodrigues, “so this is only my second winter ever. In my neighborhood they always clear away the snow so fast… but here in the park the snow is so clean and beautiful. I just love it!”