ROOTS (Restoration of the Outdoors Organized by Teen Students) is a volunteer program for high school students. Each spring and fall, students participate in semester-long ecological restoration projects to restore and manage Central Park’s woodlands. Alongside Conservancy woodlands staff, students maintain rustic trails, remove invasive plants, and cultivate native shrubs, trees, and wildflowers. Students are also given the opportunity to participate in field trips to other NYC natural areas, utilizing the skills they’ve developed in Central Park in support of other parks. In the past, students have participated in restoration projects in Marine Park, Rockaway Park, Bronx Park, and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to name a few.
ROOTS was created by the Conservancy in 2003 as a way for high school students to learn about urban ecology and the value of urban natural areas through active participation in restoration practices.
This program fulfills community service requirements. Acceptance is through a competitive application process. Grades 9-12.
Program and Application Schedule
The application for each program is only available between the dates listed here.
March – May: Saturdays, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Application Available: December 16
Application Deadline: January 26
October – November: Saturdays, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Application Available: June 8
Application Deadline: August 31
Apply for ROOTS in the Application Portal >
ROOTS students have been instrumental to the restoration of the Hallett Nature Sanctuary. Read more on our Blog >
See what ROOTS students are saying about their experiences in these submissions to our essay contest, From the Next Generation of Park Stewards. Students were asked to answer the question: How has your work in Central Park and the ROOTS program informed your perception of urban parks?
It’s easy to sit back and 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 was I truly able to appreciate them.
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 once 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.
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 a green space 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.
Since I was young living in Astoria, Queens, I have always loved parks. I often went to my local park, Astoria Park, and frequently ventured out of Queens to some of Manhattan’s parks, most notably the most famous urban park in the world, Central Park.
Like most people, I enjoyed Central Park. I visited some of the sights in the “Children’s District”, a term used to describe the southern end of the Park. However, I had no idea what went into the park’s day to day operation. Thus, in the winter of 2015-2016, I did some research on some of the Park’s offerings. Just over one year later, I’ve participated in three ROOTS Programs, the Green Careers Lab, the Visitor Experience Apprenticeship Program, and will participate in a summer internship this July.
In this time, saying that I’ve learned a lot is an understatement. The ROOTS program was my first experience with hands-on restoration work. In the Hallett Nature Sanctuary (about four acres large), we removed invasive species such as Eunonymus, or “Winter Creeper”, garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed, and Wisteria. We’ve also planted native species in different areas of the sanctuary to increase biodiversity.
And, while the ROOTS program showed me how much work goes into maintaining such a small portion of the Park, I learned about the importance of urban parks at a larger scale in the Green Careers Lab. Park professionals from all over NYC enlightened us about their ideals, and how their career paths led them to work in the parks field.
In the Visitor Experience Apprenticeship, I was educated about the history of the Park, interacted with park visitors, and saw first-hand how they use the Park, and what makes a memorable park experience for them. I’ve taken what I learned, and assisted many visitors in making their park experience a better one.
And throughout all of these hours of doing something that was originally out of my element, I’ve learned a lot of important ideas. Landscapes that are generally taken for granted, take a lot of work. All of the plants, paths, signs, etc. take lots of rigorous planting and stewardship. And while there are a lot of challenges working in and maintaining a park in one of the world’s largest cities, every small contribution and thought helps make the park what it is today.
Unlike some other fields of business or expertise, there is no end to the restoration work in Central Park. The weather and other unpredictable urban city factors will give the outstanding staff and volunteers more and more work to do. After seeing and hearing a broad scope of opinions and participating in the workfirst-hand, I believe that is the beauty of an urban park. Urban parks are ever-changing, and there will always be a new challenge tomorrow, no matter how rigorous.
Niko Goutakolis will be starting as a student at The New School this fall. He has strong interests in journalism and hospitality, and runs a successful blog about the Mets. Niko has been a valuable member of ROOTS, VEAP, Green Careers Lab, and is currently starting our highly competitive Summer Internship along with 29 other students.
Youth Education & Service Programs are generously supported by The Barker Welfare Foundation, Abraham Perlman Foundation, The Pinkerton Foundation, and William E. Weiss Foundation, Inc./Daryl Brown Uber.