Education / Environment

Hunts Point gets a gift for Earth Day

Bryan Mark Urbsaitis

Kayla Davis puts the finishing touches on her hand-painted Earth Day sign for the Hunts Point Recreational Community Garden on April 26.

Volunteers clean up green spaces and plant gardens

Nearly six dozen volunteers wielded shovels, spades, rakes and trowels, overturning soil and spreading mulch in a practical demonstration of the meaning of Earth Day organized by Sustainable South Bronx on April 26.

“Earth Day was born out of the desire to get a lot of the local groups in Hunts Point together to do something of service for the environment,” said Angela Tovar, director of sustainable policy and research at Sustainable South Bronx. “I think that the great thing about this volunteer event is that it’s really a celebration of Hunts Point.”

A number of organizations, including the Department of Parks and Recreation, Hunts Point Recreation Center, Bryant Hill Community Garden, Bronx River Alliance and The Point Community Development Corp., came together to clean up the neighborhood’s green spaces and perform maintenance and repair work on the South Bronx Greenway. As the participants assembled in Hunts Point Riverside Park before heading to their work places, clouds gave way to sunlight.

Among the projects the volunteers tackled were the beautification at the Bryant Hill Community Garden on Bryant Avenue and the gardens at the Hunts Point Recreation Center, repairs to tree guards along the Hunts Point and Lafayette avenues, a cleanup of the streets leading to the South Bronx Greenway and a cleanup and mulching at several parks.

“The South Bronx has got a lot of beautiful spaces and people don’t know about it,” said Michael Brotchner, executive director of Sustainable South Bronx. “One of the big challenges here in the Bronx is the lack of transportation to parks and lack of programing in the parks.”

Brotchner added that Sustainable South Bronx is working with the city and other organizations to promote green spaces and parks in Hunts Point in order to attract foot traffic comparable to neighborhoods in other boroughs.

Tovar recently testified in front of the city council asking for improved maintenance of the greenway and the streets leading to it, where median plantings have been neglected and trash lays uncollected.

Helped by local students, Sustainable South Bronx’s Greenway Steward has been cleaning the medians, hauling as many as 10 bags of trash away each week.

“One of the things that we do with our partner organization, The Point CDC, is encourage the city to fulfill its pledges for what the greenway was supposed to be,” said Brotchner. “A lot needs to be done to fulfill the greenway’s promise.”

Many of the volunteers were out working bright and early.

“I was up at five,” said Franklin Valerio, a 10-year resident of Hunts Point who grew up on the Lower East Side. “It’s my first time here.”

Valerio is a member of the Sustainable South Bronx’s BEST program—the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Academy–which provides intensive training and teaches job skills related to protecting the environment, restoring urban green spaces and bringing buildings to a greener standard.

He led one of the groups of volunteers assigned to work along the South Bronx Greenway, and said he felt that through participating in the Earth Day activities he had contributed to a positive change.

While many of the volunteers were local residents, others from elsewhere joined them.

“I enjoy all of the Bronx, so it’s no problem to do something for all of it,” said Pope Jackson, a resident of Parkchester. “There’s nothing ever asked of you that’s hard or complicated. At the very least it’s good exercise. Everything is worth doing here.”

Jackson said he enjoyed Hunts Point’s Earth Day activities because in his neighborhood most green spaces are maintained by city agencies, so it is hard for him to find similar hands-on opportunities.

“One thing that’s necessary now, is that people universally need to begin to have ownership of their neighborhoods again,” he said–“really value their neighborhood beyond their house, beyond their doorstep.”

Young people worked near the Hunts Point Recreation Center, laying down anti-weed netting beneath mulched paths in the flower garden in front of the building.

Ysabel Felipe, a member of The Point’s youth group A.C.T.I.O.N. who was working in the flower garden, said she became environmentally-conscious at an early age. “When I was little I hated when people littered, so every time they littered I’d hold my breath and pretend I’m dying,” she said, laughing. “I still hold my breath when they throw stuff on the ground.”

Other volunteers painted colorful signs for the garden behind the Hunts Point Recreation Center.

“We just wanted to give back to the community,” said Lyneisha Bright, one of the painters.

In the garden, volunteers planted flowers, including asters, daisies, foxgloves, morning glories, poppies, zinnias and more.

“In a month or so, they will come back and the community will plant herbs and vegetables,” said Annette Williams, deputy director of Sustainable South Bronx. “We would love to see a grape vine going along the garden, something to provide a little shade.”

According to Williams, sustainability comes from community engagement. It is the people in the community that have to take care of the community.

“Grapes can grow in the Bronx,” she said. “Especially the South Bronx.”


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