Earth Day At Stuy Cove Park by Liz Smith

ImageStuyvesant Cove Park just off 23rd street at the East River stands for more than a good view. Daisy Hoyt, park manager, works toward creating and maintaining an educational and beautiful landscape with native plants using sustainable practices in the urban jungle of New York. She and the park’s team operate outside of Solar One, a learning center and environmental organization, which stands at the north end of the park. This Earth Day, in honor of the annual event encouraging active participation in the preservation of the environment, Hoyt explains her connection to horticulture and the functions of this unexpected green space just east of Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive in an interview with NYU.

NYU: How long have you been working at Solar One?

Daisy: 5 years.

NYU: How did you get interested in this area?

Daisy: I have always been interested in horticulture, I grew up in a rural area and my first job was at a green house, so I’ve always liked it.

NYU: Does the Cove Park connect with other parks in the city?

Daisy: It’s independent, Stuy Cove is managed by Solar One and it has no connection to the Parks Department. We’re connected to East River Park via the bike path but we don’t overlap in management.

NYU: Where does the funding for the park come from?

Daisy: A variety of private sources. The park is also funded partially by the city.

NYU: How big is the park?

Daisy:It adds up to about 2 acres.

NYU: Are you looking to grow at all, area-wise?

Daisy: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s possible.

NYU: What is Solar One’s mission here at the park?

Daisy: Solar one is an educational facility and it was built as a model for sustainable houses so it has the roof covered in solar panels and it is very well insulated. Solar One has an education department that runs K-12 programming in schools throughout the city. We also have a workforce training program in Long Island City that trains folks for green jobs and we have arts programs. Solar One runs a variety of pretty disparate programs all linked by the theme of sustainability. Ultimately, we also want to build a new building called Solar 2 that will be a model of sustainability with solar panels and geothermal wells, which will have an exhibition space and classroom space.  

NYU: Did Solar One take the initiative to create and oversee the management of the park?

Daisy: No, Solar One was created after the park was built. The park was built about 10 years ago after a lengthy community battle. There were plans to fill in the river even more here and develop high rises, some big development, but folks in the community decided they didn’t want that and fought against it for years and finally they won. They were asked what they wanted and they said a park so the city built a park and Solar One was created to manage the park. 

NYU: Can you talk about what this space was prior to being a park?

Daisy: It was a brownfield. Prior to it being a park, it was a sort of abandoned space. There was a bunch of junk, trash, cars, and before that there was, I believe, a concrete factory and before that there was a gas refinery. Originally, this was likely marshland. I believe that up until 1st Avenue, this was all fill. 

NYU: Did that cause any problems for growing plants?

Daisy: The soil is imported. It’s topsoil, not from onsite so it’s not contaminated. 

NYU: What are your daily tasks?

Daisy: I order supplies, arrange community events, deal with various community folks, go to community bard meetings and things like that. I oversee a seasonal gardener and a maintenance person. I write reports and grants with various managerial things.

NYU: Is it a lot of work for just 2-3 people?

Daisy: Yes, we also work with lots and lots of volunteers so we have plenty of help.

NYU: How do you publicize the park to the city?

Daisy: A lot of people in the neighborhood don’t even know we’re here cause it’s kind of out of the way. People who come up and down the bike path from all over the city see the park. Other than that, we do a bit of advertising for events, we hand out fliers, and we put posters up. We are planning on building solar 2 and that will be a much bigger, much more visible center.

NYU: What kind of people go to the park on a daily basis?

Daisy: All kinds. Generally, I don’t think we have that many tourists. Lots and lots of joggers and bikers. Lots and lots of dog walkers and lots of people just wanting to come hang out by the water or just sit in a park.

NYU: You think the park goers appreciate the efforts you’re making here?

Daisy: I think some people do, some people absolutely do. Some people just value it as a green space and they don’t necessary know much about plants or ecology and that’s fine. Some people are very curious and they ask questions and really are intrigued by the idea of all-native species and solar power and things like that. 

NYU: How do the efforts of Stuy Cove Park compare to those of other sustainable park initiatives?

Daisy: I don’t know exactly, but I imagine that we are all thinking of the same things: how to grow plants without using pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, and things like that.

NYU: What are the challenges of building such a park in a urban city?

Daisy: I would say the biggest challenge that comes with being an urban place is foot traffic. People don’t really understand that walking through the beds or letting the dogs walk through the beds is damaging. Other than that, this is a very exposed location, and it’s very hot and bright in the summer. Lastly, the highway is right there and there’s air pollution.

NYU: What are you doing to manage those negative effects on the park?

Daisy: I try to plant species. It’s an ongoing experiment to find species that do well here, those that can handle things like food traffic, soil contraction, and bad air quality. So that’s really my main goal: to find species that will thrive.

NYU: Why is it so important for the park to have native plants?

Daisy: There are a couple reasons.  One, native plants provide habitat for native animals. Two, Native plants are endemic to the region (and theoretically are easier to grow, though that’s not necessarily true) and three, it’s just an educational advantage. It provides an example of how native species can be beautiful and also to just educate people on what occurs naturally around them, get people interested in the natural world in their immediate surroundings. 

NYU: Do you have a focus on endangered species or trying to create a large amount of biodiversity in the park?

Daisy: A little of both, I really like variety. We have about 100 different species and I like that number but I do have to focus also on what will grow, what’s actually practical. 

NYU: What are some of the most significant and interesting species that you grow here?

Daisy: We have milk weed, which is a very interesting plant. It is the host plant for monarch butterflies. We also have a variety of waterfront plants that I think are really neat. We have bay berry, which is a pretty cool suckering shrub that has really nice scented leaves and two species of minarta that have really cool looking flowers in the summer.  Carolina rose also has really beautiful flowers in June that smell amazing.

NYU: Are you looking to bring in more of an educational aspect to the park?

Daisy: In addition to educational signs, I run several walks throughout the year to talk about the plants and various other things of interest in the park. One of these days I may partner with the education program to come up with a park ecology class or something like that.

NYU: Is there anything you’d like to see more of happening in the park?

Daisy: Some day I think it would be nice to have some sustainably-themed, public art and I’m looking into that with a colleague of mine.

NYU: How did Hurricane Sandy affect the parks?

Daisy: We got lots of flooding here and it also deposited a pretty incredible amount of debris in the park. We filled up I think 3 dumpsters worth of stuff at least 3 dumpsters worth of stuff from the park but also soaked the park in salt water and that’s not very good for plants and at this point, I’m sort of waiting to see what comes back and what doesn’t. So far so good, we’ve been seeing a lot of things come back that I was a little skeptical about. We did lose some trees, we lost all of our eastern red cedars, they’re evergreen trees and they just got really pushed around by the storm surge so they’re all gone. I am also worried about some of our other woodland species that don’t have any natural tolerance to salt. This year, though, we’ve had to spend a lot of money on new tools, new supplies, new plants, and other services because of Sandy. We lost a lot of our tools and maybe we’ll have lost a lot of our plants too. That still remains to be seen. 

NYU: What is this park’s meaning in the larger frame of New York? Is it an icon of sustainability?

Daisy: Absolutely, yes. It’s a great example in how you can manage a space sustainably. We’re right betweena  gas station, a highway, and a power plant. It’s a good contrast.

NYU: How is the park an icon of Earth Day?

Daisy: It’s an example of sustainability and work, a good example of how parks can be managed sustainably and provide wildlife habitat and be beautiful.

NYU: Are you dedicating your life to environmental concerns and efforts?

Daisy: Yeah, I would like it always to be a focus in my life. It’s always been a presence in my life. My parents are hippies. 

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