2014-06-20 / Columnists

Go Parks!

Go Greenbelt Native Plant Center
By Edward Toth


Edward Toth and a group of volunteers at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center. Photo by Daniel Avila/NYC Parks Edward Toth and a group of volunteers at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center. Photo by Daniel Avila/NYC Parks While the typical associations of New York City include skyscrapers and hot dogs, NYC Parks’ Greenbelt Native Plant Center sheds a light on a unique aspect of urban life: our rich native plant community.

The one-of-a-kind facility supports New York’s vibrant natural ecosystems by providing a well-maintained green space for native plants and seeds to grow and thrive. Based in Staten Island on a 13-acre stretch of land, the center strives for long-term sustainability of our park’s natural resources. Since its beginning, the facility has overseen the growth of hundreds of vital native species. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the center is particularly critical for restoring and enhancing key parts of New York City wildlife. Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on many native plant populations, creating dangerous imbalances in once stable ecosystems. One prominent example of this was the destruction of American Beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata), a species fundamental to the protection of sand dunes and other forms of wildlife on beaches. Currently the Greenbelt Native Plant Center is embarked on a multi year project to develop the beach grass and reintroduce it to affected areas. Upon the project’s inception in 2013, the center received a USDAdeveloped variety of the grass, called ‘Cape’ from the Cape May Plant Material Center (USDA/NRCS) to fulfill temporary and short term needs for the grass in Staten Island and the Rockaways. Because it is easily reproduced within a short time frame, this variety has done wonders to facilitate new construction projects and the restoration of wildlife on beaches. In addition to its invaluable work in preserving the environment, the center is also a part of a heartwarming history. The idea for the center originated in the 1980s from naturalists Richard Lynch and Nancy Slowik who brought a proposal to former Greenbelt


Big things are sprouting. Here newly planted beach grass is taking hold at Rockaway Beach. Photo by Malcolm Pinckney/NYC Parks. Big things are sprouting. Here newly planted beach grass is taking hold at Rockaway Beach. Photo by Malcolm Pinckney/NYC Parks. Administrator Tom Paulo for a native plant nursery in Staten Island. With low funding and citywide interest in preserving wildlife, the duo jumped from facility to facility in hopes of formally establishing an adequate base for their just beginning operations. Ever resourceful, they eventually settled in an abandoned nursery. They restored the site and, adopting less than conventional security measures, acquired two-long horned goats to ward off any destructive animals from the plants. When environmental protection became a more prominent concern, Lynch and Slowik became very popular as spokespeople for native plan communities. Slowly but surely, their small center grew beyond its physical capabilities, and necessitated a newer, larger space. It acquired its new home in 1992 at the Mohlenhoff farm, where it currently resides as a testament to New York City’s commitment to native plant life.

So whether you’re an environmentalist or a casual beachgoer interested in our projects, check out www.- nycgovparks.org/greening/greenbeltnative plant-center for plenty of opportunities to learn about the center and get involved!

Just to mention of a few of these unique offerings, GNPC offers regular educational tours of its facilities for university and high school science and conservation programs. These tours are an excellent way to learn about native plant life and literally see the roots of the New York City ecosystem. Additionally, the center boasts a well-established, committed volunteer program that is sure to keep you having fun while participating in important environmental efforts for the New York City community. NYC Parks is always seeking dedicated volunteers to help us help the environment. For plenty of chances to get involved, check out www.nyc.gov/parks. So go learn, go volunteer, and of course, GO PARKS!

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