PPA Profiles: Bart Chezar
August 17, 2015
Bart Chezar is a Brooklyn native. As an active member of the Prospect Park Alliance Volunteer Corps, he’s extremely involved in the beautification of Prospect Park. In addition to pulling weeds and laying mulch with the Alliance’s Thursday Volunteer Corps, Bart has also played an integral role in reintroducing an important piece of ecological history into the Park, the return of the American chestnut tree.
Bart’s work with the Alliance and his interest in reviving the American chestnut tree began shortly after his retirement in 2000. Formerly a Research and Development Engineer for the New York Power Authority, he has maintained a keen passion for restoring the environmental heritage of New York City. In 2004, he met Anne Wong, Prospect Park Alliance’s former Director of Landscape Management, who invited him to take part in a chestnut planting experiment.
Over a century ago, the American chestnut population was devastated by a vicious fungus known as chestnut blight. The tree that was once the most prolific species east of the Mississippi was decimated in just a few decades. The blight would not allow the chestnut trees to successfully pollinate. When Anne asked Bart to help plant a few chestnuts in the Park, the survival of the samplings was a long shot. For nearly a decade the chestnut trees in Prospect Park were able to resist the deadly fungus, but in early 2012 they began to show signs of blight.
In response, the Alliance teamed up with the American Chestnut Foundation, an organization working to find a solution. Alongside Alliance arborists, Bart helped to plant and monitor a new hybrid species found to be resistant to blight in woodland areas of the Park, including the landscapes surrounding the Picnic House (where you may notice yellow plastic coverings on trees along the path from the Tennis House to the Picnic House) and also the Peninsula. The hope is that the new blight-resistant chestnuts will pollinate with the older species planted a decade ago. Although it’s too soon to be sure, recent findings indicate that the program is working. Bart’s efforts with the Alliance and the American Chestnut Foundation have successfully cultivated the first Brooklyn-born chestnut seedlings in over 100 years.
Bart’s passion for reviving New York’s native ecosystem did not begin, nor end, with his work saving the American chestnut. He was the first to be granted a permit to reintroduce oysters in New York Harbor, a project that is continued by the Environmental Protection Agency and Corps of Engineers. He has also worked tirelessly to bring back Osprey to the area. He even started an “eco pier” in Sunset Park where visitors can become acquainted with the inter-tidal habitats that once surrounded the borough.