A partially overlooked part of New York City is the magnificent parks that reside right under our noses. The intricate system of parks that has existed for decades has been taken for granted by the people who live and use it on a daily basis, and the parks have lost their wealth as providers to every community that they exist in. But during the pandemic, something changed. The quarantine provided much reflection upon people and lent them more time than was previously available. During the pandemic, people became tired of sitting home and seeing the same walls and items everyday on a daily basis. This pushed them to go outside and connect more with nature. As a result, people started appreciating the city’s parks and realizing parks’ purposes in the communities. Not only here, parks all over the country started expanding their reach of attention and gaining many fans that appreciate the beauty of nature that reside in these magnificent places. Generally put, people became way more in touch with nature because of their circumstances.
While this phenomenon was not a surprise, what was impressive was the magnitude of people who started going out and enjoying parks all around the world. An article in The Washington Post, “Nurtured by Nature,” states “The surge of interest in the outdoors since the pandemic took hold isn’t specific to America. One study published in November in the Journal of Forestry Research analyzed Google location-tracking data and found significant increases in park usage worldwide during the pandemic’s first wave.” And another study focusing primarily on New York City and States parks that was published in an article titled “New York Parks Saw Record Visits in 2020” by Spectrum News 1 stated “A record 78 million visits were made to New York parks in 2020, marking an overall 34% increase over the last decade, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said on Tuesday. The visits came as the COVID-19 pandemic restricted mass gatherings in public and limited travel plans for New Yorkers, making parks one of the few activities available during the public health crisis.” And to tie it all together, an article published by Quartz said that an overwhelming number of Americans started going to parks, with an 80% increase of people in parks since January 2020. The article titled “PARK OR BUST: Once Again, a Pandemic Has Stoked Americans’ Love for National Parks” stated “Those visits are overwhelming parks—most of which were already at a breaking point. Utah’s majestic Zion National Park, home to soaring red rock arches and desert waterfalls, resembles a crowded amusement park most days. There were 4.5 million visits to the park in 2019, for a park with parking to handle less than half that number. It’s not much different at national gems such as Rocky Mountain National Park or Yellowstone, where waiting times to get on the trail may exceed your time in the wilderness by four to one.” With more time than ever, popularity for parks increased by a tremendous amount, allowing people to connect with nature on a greater scale.
Now moving topics here, in the past few weeks the WHSAD Makerspace has been involved in a great new project that is slowly starting to unfold. As some people might know, WHSAD has been focused on creating and participating in projects around Staten Island for the past year. This happens to be our most recent endeavor, with an exciting end goal in mind. With the cooperation of our school and the High Rock Greenbelt Conservatory, this project has its sights set on developing and executing ideas that could better improve the current situation at High Rock park. Our first step with this project was participating in an introductory virtual field trip and meeting our main coordinator. During the meeting on October 13th, the participants of the Makerspace (me included) met Chris Ricker, an educator for the Greenbelt Conservatory who works with many schools and youth groups around New York City. The meeting was four hours long and covered many topics about the project, including the current situation of the Greenbelt and the proposed projects to be implemented such as improved multi-use lanes and paths throughout the Greenbelt. During the meeting we also discussed the current issues that exist in the Greenbelt. And at the end of the meet we all participated in a cool activity where we were asked to state what we could bring to the table that could support this project. Everyone wrote down 2-3 aspects about themselves and then shared out loud their qualities, experiences, and ideas that they could chip in to improve the Greenbelt and create a quality project.
And after all that, we come to this position. I’ve stated two different ideas so far, and you might be wondering what the main idea is here. Well as I stated in the beginning, there has been a huge rise in popularity among parks and the outdoors in general. As people have gained more time than ever before to explore and find new places, the idea of “breaking away from the city” or “taking some time away” even if it’s just for a day had become not only more feasible but more prominent for people going through the quarantine and the world’s problems in general, like an escape to find peace, harmony, and adventure. But now that the Covid pandemic seems to be nearing its end and as the world is returning back to normal, one question remains: Will parks still be as popular as before? I personally think that parks will continue to be as popular now as they were during the pandemic. With a bigger fan base than ever before, I think this is a very interesting and important time. That’s why it is imperative for us as communities to be there and support parks. Because while we enjoy them as escapes from our world, if we don’t take proper care of them, there won’t be parks to visit. And as Chris Ricker said, “Parks and natural areas are gifted to each generation;” therefore, it is our responsibility and duty to uphold and maintain these parks for the future generations.
Below are some further thoughts from other participating students:
My experience at the High Rock event on Wednesday was pretty enjoyable! For it being my first virtual field trip, it was very engaging and informative. Our guides Chris and Kat gave us the rundown on Greenbelt park, located in Staten Island. The borough of Staten Island was inhabited by a tribe of Native Americans called the Lenape, who gathered resources from an area of the island to help benefit them. This area of rich resources and wildlife would eventually become Greenbelt. In 1950 Greenbelt was established as a national park, but 79 years prior, a man named Frederick Olmstead proposed the first four miles of trail in the park.
Our guides as well as Mr. Codio also gave us a little insight into what our main project in the park will be. As far as we know, our main project will be a structure of our own design, that will be made to benefit the park. As a group, Waylon, Christian, D’Artagnan, Sebastian and I designed a bridge that could be used to cross rivers throughout the park. We made sure this bridge could be accessible to anyone with any disabilities, and that it would be sturdy enough to withstand any condition and any amount of weight. The main premise of this project and the program itself is to have students become more engaged in nature, as well as to help them understand the importance of park systems and natural resource management. Some students who participated in the program have already had prior interactions with nature and/or preserving other parks across New York, so this program may be familiar territory for some. I for one am optimistic about this program and creating our designs. I also won’t mind getting my hands dirty once we finally visit the park in person in the spring.
-Ethanael Vega, WHSAD Senior
The meeting of Greenbelt was a meeting where we learned the history of Greenbelt and how Chris and others manage and maintain it. One key topic was how they talked about fungi, or more specifically chicken fungus, and how it was a mushroom that was edible. Later in the meeting, Mr. Codio ate the fungus and told me that it was good, but after a while, he said that it tasted bad as the after taste kicked in, and everyone laughed. After a few minutes Kat, one of the environmental teachers, spoke about how the trails had wood and stone on the side to indicate the trail. These elements were put there so water won’t run in the trail and make the trail muddy.
The next part was a bit hazy for me as it was people asking questions, but one question that I remembered that was memorable was “How do you handle the deer population?” Chris said how the state deals with it, but there was a plan of how they would make the deer not reproduce by blocking the pineal gland so they would not be able to produce the hormones to reproduce.
Then we were asked what addition or object we wanted to add to Greenbelt. What we made was a bridge which would be used for opening a path across a stream of water, and we made the design of the bridge to not disturb the park’s environment so we chose wood as our base and stone as our supports.
Then we learned about the history of Staten Island and how Staten Islanders were solidly supportive of the Crown, and the island played a significant role in the American Revolutionary War. General George Washington once called Staten Islanders “our most inveterate enemies in the the American Revolution.” In the 19th century, the end of slavery in New York was celebrated at Swan Hotel, West Brighton. Rooms at the hotel were reserved months in advance as local abolitionists, including prominent free blacks, prepared for the festivities. Speeches, pageants, picnics, and fireworks marked the celebration, which lasted for two days. Now it’s a modern place like Manhattan or Queens.
I would have to say it was a nice meeting as everyone learned something new. I learned the history of Staten Island and Greenbelt in general, and I got to see Mr. Codio eat fungi and hold a turtle.
-Sebastian Psujek, WHSAD Sophomore
The Greenbelt is home to many animals such as the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), moles (Scalopus aquaticus), flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans), Red Fox (Vulpes fulva) and many more. A big problem facing these animals in the area is ground vegetation, or lack thereof. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are overpopulating the area and the grass can’t keep up. Moles and rabbits also need grass to live, so if the deer population is not controlled, it could destroy the entire ecosystem.
Deer populations are increasing across the United States. In fact, there are more deer in North America today than at any time in history. Within New York City, populations of white-tailed deer are growing and expanding in the north Bronx and Staten Island. Deer benefit from abundant food and shelter available in those boroughs’ parks and green spaces, especially in the Greenbelt, but the grass is disappearing. It’s gotten so bad that some patches of grass have fences to keep out deer. To make things worse, deer keep coming over from across the river from New Jersey all the way to the Greenbelt because of habitat loss, making the situation worse.
A solution to this problem was giving male deer vasectomies, to stop them from reproducing, but this effort has been canceled out by the wave of male deer from New Jersey arriving and since they can’t really do anything to the females, they can’t do anything about it. If this keeps up the entire ecosystem will die in a chain reaction.
-D’Artagnan Dyasi, WHSAD Sophomore