Brittany Buongiorno

Caring for the Park’s 30,000 Trees

July 13, 2021

Prospect Park is home to more than 30,000 trees of more than 175 species. A key focus of the non-profit Prospect Park Alliance’s mission is to sustain and restore the park’s natural areas, including the woodland Ravine and the park’s historic watercourse and lake, which suffered from significant erosion and neglect prior to the Alliance’s founding. This commitment represents a $15 million investment over the past three decades, which has encompassed nearly 200 acres of woodlands, and the planting and ongoing care of more than 500,000 trees, plants and shrubs.

Prospect Park Alliance’s Forester, Michael Marino, sat down for a chat about the importance of our caring for the park’s trees and how they contribute to our community’s well being and quality of life. 

Recently, a generous grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation provided the Alliance with the opportunity to survey roughly half the park’s trees to shed light on their significant impact on Brooklyn’s quality of life, and to create a forest management plan. Through the survey, the Alliance discovered that the surveyed trees alone provide more than $2 million in annual environmental benefits: removing 21,000 pounds of pollutants and 3,000 tons of greenhouse gases from the air, and saving 1,300 megawatt hours of energy consumption and 22 million gallons of stormwater runoff from the city sewer system. 

“A lot of my work involves the care of recently planted trees,” said Marino. “The work you do when a tree is young will impact the rest of its life.” Trees, like many other living organisms, can experience and express pain, but often it takes years before the signs of pain and stress are apparent to those who care for them. “The culmination of stress on a tree can show up 20 years later.”

The primary source of funding for planting new trees in the park is the Alliance’s commemorative tree program. “We plant about 100 trees a year for community members, to celebrate a loved one or special occasion or simply to give back to the park,” Michael explained. Donors have a variety of different tree planting options in order to honor a loved one, including a special Arbor Day program. Prospect Park Alliance conducts commemorative tree plantings each fall and spring. Through this program, roughly 1,100 trees have been planted over the past 30 years.

When asked about simple things park patrons can do to help ensure the health of the trees in the park, Michael had a few tips. Climbing trees and hanging hammocks are damaging to the trees. While climbing a tree in a private backyard isn’t necessarily damaging, in a public area thousands of people doing this activity daily is. He also spoke at length about soil compaction. “Whenever you see large dead patches around trees, or the ground is very hard and flat, the tree is not getting enough air or water. The tree is suffocating from the bottom up.

Please spread the word on how to be an environmental champion in Prospect Park by following these simple rules:

  • Please dispose of litter in designated receptacles or consider taking your litter with you when you leave the park and disposing of it at home.
  • Please stay on paths in our woodland areas, and do not go beyond fencing or build forts in our woodlands: this protects fragile nesting areas for birds, turtles and other wildlife.
  • Please keep dogs leashed at all times in the woodlands: off-leash hours are provided in our large meadow areas, learn more on our Things to Do with Dogs page.
  • Please do not climb or hang objects on trees in the park: our trees are our environmental treasure. While sap is flowing up to provide nourishment to the emerging buds and flowers, bark is at its most vulnerable. Wounds become easy access for insects and disease.
  • Please enjoy the flowers, but don’t pick as they are important for our pollinators, the cycle of life in any wildlife habitat.
  • Please avoid having barbecues s under trees and dumping hot coals on the lawns. Learn more about barbecue rules and safety.

Learn more about the Alliance’s efforts to preserve the environment. 

Want to give back to the park and honor a loved one? Learn more about our commemorative tree program, and how to get involved.