Stuy Cove Park: Digging Out a Sustainable Niche

By Sabrina Treitz

Stuyvesant Cove Park Manager Daisy Hoyt joined the Solar One project five years ago after responding to an ad posted on Craigslist. Solar One is a model for a sustainable house constructed on park grounds in which she, her staff, and her colleagues have office space.

Hoyt must closely monitor the growth and development of the plants in the two-acre park, especially after Hurricane Sandy, and she should know within a month how detrimental an effect the storm has had on the 100 species planted in the beds.

Stuyvesant Cove Park, a two-acre park that stretches from 18th to 23rd Street.

Stuyvesant Cove Park, a two-acre park that stretches from 18th to 23rd Street.

Journalistic Inquiry: How did you get interested in this area of study?

Hoyt: I’ve alway’s been interested in horticulture. I grew up in a rural area, and my first job was at a greenhouse.

JI: What are your day to day tasks as park manager at Stuy Cove Park?

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

JI: What is Solar One? How do you describe what we’re standing in?

Hoyt: Solar One is an educational facility. It was built as a model for a sustainable house, so the roof is covered in solar panels, it’s very well insulated, it has a variety of other things that makes is more sustainable than others.

JI: What is Solar One’s mission here?

Hoyt: Solar One does a variety of things. They have an education department that runs K-12 programing in schools throughout the city. They also have a workforce training program in Long Island City that trains folks for green jobs, and we have arts programs. Ultimately we want to build in this space a new building called Solar Two that will be sort of a model of sustainability with solar panels and geothermal walls, have an exhibition space and classroom space, and things like that. That will be a much bigger, much more visible center. The architectural plans are done, and we are just in the last stages of fundraising.

JI: Did Solar One take the initiative to come in and oversee the management of the park?

Hoyt: Solar One came in after the park was built. The park was built about ten years ago after a lengthy community battle. There were plans to fill in the river even more and develop high rises, but folks in the community decided they didn’t want that and fought against it for years. And finally they won, and they were asked, “well, what do you want?” and they said, “we want a park.” So the city built a park, and Solar One was built to manage the park.

JI: How did Hurricane Sandy affect the growth of plants in the park? There don’t seem to be signs of much life at the moment.

Hoyt: That’s pretty normal at this time of year. We got lots of flooding here, and it also deposited a pretty incredible amount of debris in the park. We filled up, I think, three dumpsters worth of stuff–at least three dumpsters worth of stuff–from the park. It 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.

JI: What about the animals?

Hoyt: Well, the birds weren’t necessarily affected by the storm, and other than that, we don’t really have ground animals except for rats, and they’re back.

JI: What plants are you most worried about?

Hoyt: I have a couple species of monarda that are not very salt tolerant. We did lose some trees. We lost all of our eastern red seeders. They’re evergreen trees, and they got really pushed around by the storm surge. And so they are all gone. I am also worried about some of our other woodland species that don’t have any natural tolerance to salt.

JI: Do you think park goers appreciate the efforts you are making here with the preservation of rare wildflowers, solar panels, etc?

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

JI: Can you describe some of the irrigation methods used in the park?

Hoyt: Well, we don’t have an irrigation system here in the park. We just have four points where we can access water, so watering really involves lots of lugging around of hoses and sprinklers.

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

Hoyt: We have lots of challenges. I would say the biggest challenge that comes with being in an urban place is foot traffic. People don’t really understand that walking through the beds or letting their dogs walk through the beds is damaging. Other than that, this is a very exposed location here. It’s very hot and bright in the Summer. And lastly the highway is right there, and there’s air pollution.

JI: What are you doing to manage those negative affects in the park?

Hoyt: It’s sorta an ongoing experiment to find species that do well here, that can handle things like foot traffic compaction, air quality, etc., so that’s really my main goal–to find species that will thrive.

JI: What was this site prior to being a park?

Hoyt: It was a brown field, so prior to it being a park it was sorta abandoned space. There was a bunch of junk, trash, cars, and before that there was, I believe, a concrete factory, and before that a gas refinery.

JI: How many employees do you have?

Hoyt: I have two. I have a maintenance person, and a seasonal person.

JI: Is it a lot of work for just two people to handle?

Hoyt: Yeah, we also work with lots and lots of volunteers, so we have a lot of help. Our interns we get forma high school called Manhattan comprehensive day and night high school, and they run an internship program out of their school. We’ve had a long running partnership with them.

JI: Does Solar One train at risk people in solar energy or is it another organization that Solar One works with?

Hoyt: That would be our work force training program in Long Island City, and they train chronically unemployed or formerly incarcerated folks in sustainability and green jobs such as solar insulation. That’s part of Solar One; it’s out of a different location, and Solar One runs a variety of pretty disparate programs all sorta linked by the theme of sustainability.

JI: There are a variety of educational signs posted in the park. Do you have plans to inform park goers of wildlife in other ways?

Hoyt: In addition to those educational signs, I run several walks throughout the year to talk about the plants and various other things of interest in the parks, and one of these days I may partner with the education program to come up with a park ecology class.

JI: Why is it so important for the park to have native plants as opposed to others?

Hoyt: Well, there’s 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, provide an example of how native species can be beautiful and also to just educate people on what just occurs naturally around them and get people interested in the natural world in their immediate surroundings.

JI: What are some of the most interesting plant species in the park?

Hoyt: Milkweed is a very interesting plant. It is a host plant for monarch butterflies their larva eat only milkweed, and so we’ve got a bunch of that. We have three different species of asclepias, which is the genus of milkweed, and monarch butterflies like all three of those. We also have a variety of waterfront plants that I think are really neat. We have bayberry which is pretty cool. Suckering Shrub that have really nice scented leaves. We have monarda–two species of monarda–that I hope will come back, and those are really great for butterflies. They have really cool looking flowers in the Summer. Carolina Rose, which also has really beautiful flowers in June that smell amazing. Those are some of my favorites.

JI: Have there ever been problems in funding the park?

Hoyt: Our funding has been pretty steady since I’ve been here, but this year we’ve had to spend a lot of money on new tools, new supplies, new plants, 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.

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