Engaging Local Communities in Forest Planning and Care

In 2022, the Natural Areas Conservancy is expanding its Conservancy Engagement Program to Highbridge Park in Washington Heights and Seton Falls Park in the Edenwald section of the Bronx. Guided by the Forest Management Framework for New York City, local community members will have the opportunity to join the NAC in developing and implementing an actionable forest management plan to promote healthy, safe, and resilient forests in their neighborhoods.

The NAC will work in the Washington Heights and Edenwald/Eastchester communities to raise awareness and foster community engagement for the forest management of Highbridge and Seton Falls Parks. Community members will learn about forest types, plant types, and current forest conditions present in the two parks. They will also learn about the rest of New York City's ecoregion through a series of virtual and in-person presentations. Our education and engagement opportunities will provide local residents and neighbors the chance to get outside, learn about forests, keep their parks healthy, and make a difference in combating climate change.

In addition to providing participants with foundational knowledge of New York City's forests, the NAC will develop forest management recommendations guided by previous ecological assessments and research conducted in 2013 and 2017. These recommendations will be created through collaborative planning sessions with local community members to address the needs of these communities and the ecological needs of surrounding natural areas.

This year-long project will kick-off in April 2022, when the NAC meets with community members to introduce the initiative and to share information on the current health and conditions of their local forests. Members will engage in a planning process to assess priority needs and schedule a series of milestones and events to:

  • Develop data-backed priorities for conservation
  • Produce actionable management recommendations
  • Identify specific opportunities for stewardship to manage and protect local parks
  • Develop bilingual training materials to better engage with Spanish-speaking community members

Throughout the summer and fall, community members will implement management recommendations and they will be guided through a series of hands-on educational opportunities in forest ecology and management including:

  • Virtual and in-person trainings designed to increase plant knowledge and best practices for land management including 1) plant identification; 2) common native plants and wildlife; 3) common invasive plant identification and impact 4) invasive species management techniques, and 5) trail management
  • Advanced workshop leader training for stewards looking to support and train other volunteers in the future

The two elements of this program — collaborative planning and training — will produce better alignment of conservation efforts among the land managers, practitioners, and community members in the parks, and result in best practices and more effective long-term management.

Work in Highbridge Park is supported by funding provided by the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, NYSDEC Hudson River Estuary Program. Work in Seton Falls Park is supported by a 2021 Long Island Sound Futures Fund Grant administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.