Each year, hundreds of young people apply to volunteer their time or work in Central Park through our youth education programs. Students learn to value and care for urban parks and their importance to cities through hands-on stewardship of Central Park and by working alongside urban park professionals. This spring, we asked our ROOTS (Restoration of the Outdoors Organized by Teen Students) students how their experience in Central Park informed their perception of urban parks.
Aneesha Aggarwal, the winner of our spring From the Next Generation of Park Stewards Writing Contest wrote about how her hard work in Central Park's North Woods inspired a newfound appreciation for urban parks.
Aneesha and fellow ROOTS students plant native species in the North Woods.
From Shakes to Shovels
by Aneesha Aggarwal
It’s easy to sit back, relax, and enjoy the natural beauty of a park with a milkshake at hand and perhaps your trusty bicycle at your side. However, it’s harder to actually contribute to creating that natural beauty. Your milkshake is replaced by a heavy shovel and your bicycle becomes a wheelbarrow filled with mulch. Before participating in the Central Park Conservancy’s Saturday ROOTS program, I had always been part of the former group. I’ve always enjoyed green spaces and parks, using them as my place of Zen. However, it wasn’t until after I participated in ROOTS that I was truly able to appreciate them.
ROOTS students remove Japanese knotweed, an invasive species, in the North Woods.
Being a part of this program has really shaped my view of urban parks. Now I pay attention to details that I had never pondered before; I notice the soil erosion that is created when people make their own paths instead of using the ones already made. I appreciate mulch trails much more than I did before. When I see them in urban parks, I know that it was no easy task to put them there. The day we restored a mulch trail in the North Woods, my muscles grew twice in size from carrying a weighty wheelbarrow up and down the trail numerous times. I also notice the variety of plant life and sometimes even the invasive species that seem to keep coming back no matter how many times you take them out. Only when you’ve been pricked by multiflora rose thorns multiple times can you truly understand the immense effort and patience it takes to remove invasive plants. After knowing and experiencing the amount of energy it takes to maintain places like Central Park, it’s hard not to recognize all these things.
ROOTS students distribute wood chips on a trail in the North Woods. Wood chips reduce soil compaction and improve soil health.
Not only do I see the tremendous effort put into urban parks, but I see a new importance to them as well. After participating in two ROOTS sessions, I can honestly say that I look at parks so differently than I did two years ago. It’s so great to have green spaces in the midst of cities. You have a place to unwind, but you also have a place to appreciate nature. It is especially important these days to have a place to remind you why it is crucial we take care of the environment. Urban parks allow people to connect with the natural world, making them more likely to be environmentally conscious. Especially now, it is vital that we make more of an effort to be eco-friendly. Urban parks promote conservation and improve the environment of a city.
Being a part of the ROOTS program and working in Central Park has truly redefined urban parks for me. I have a whole new perspective of them, and I’m more educated in their significance. I am so thankful for the experiences I’ve had in the ROOTS program, and how they have only made my passion for sustainability and the environment greater. I’m glad to have traded a milkshake for a shovel, because it truly has made the difference.
Aneesha Agarwaal is a student at the Staten Island Academy with strong interests in sustainability and taking care of the environment. She has been a valuable member of ROOTS for two semesters and is currently starting our highly competitive Summer Internship along with 29 other students.
Read our blog to learn more about ROOTS.