Caring for Parks in the Five Boroughs

July 15, 2022: This article has been updated to reflect changes since its original publishing.

The Central Park Conservancy tends to the largest and smallest details in Central Park—but our maintenance and conservation work extends to parks throughout the five boroughs, too. In fact, since its earliest days, the Conservancy has provided critical assistance and support to parks throughout New York City (and North America). Here in the City, which is home to an incredible 300,000 acres of greenspace, we provide care through the Five Borough Program, operated in partnership with NYC Parks and designed to create lasting change in the care and resiliency of local parks. The second program, Historic Harlem Parks, is dedicated to offering consistent maintenance and support specifically across four parks in Harlem.

‘Each Park is Unique’

Four members strong, the Five Borough Program works year-round in parks throughout the City, providing landscape maintenance and restoration support, as well as field-based training to NYC Parks employees and community partners. To date, this team has supported more than 27 parks throughout the five boroughs. “We support parks that need extra resources and collaborate with NYC Parks to determine where to work,” says Bill Kearney, the Conservancy’s Outside Parks Manager. “There’s a tremendous amount of park space in New York City, and each park is unique.”

Conservancy groundskeeper on a riding mower

Larry Baskerville, Outside Parks Foreperson, mows in St. Nicholas Park as part of the Historic Harlem Parks program. Larry has been with the Conservancy for more than 22 year

Working side-by-side with NYC Parks staff, the Five Borough Program tackles lawn care, including mowing, removing weeds, fertilizing, irrigating, aerating, and over-seeding; clears leaves; plows paths; repairs and replaces fences; prunes; removes snow and ice from stairs; and more. “With their staff working alongside us, we can get a lot accomplished,” Bill says. In addition to assisting with this work, we also mentor NYC Parks staff on equipment and maintenance best practices.

Meanwhile, our Harlem Historic Parks program focuses its expertise on landmark conservation and overall support in four select locations: Jackie Robinson Park, Marcus Garvey Park, Morningside Park, and St. Nicholas Park. Since 2015, each park has received up to 16 hours of maintenance and operations support per week, as well as over 13,500 hours of staff support.

Caring for Parks in the Five Boroughs

The Conservancy tends to the largest and smallest details in Central Park—but our maintenance and conservation work also extends to parks throughout New York City.

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How We Share Our Expertise

One of the largest projects in recent years was the Five Borough Programs' ballfield restoration at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. “Their fields get used a lot, and they thought they had a drainage problem,” says Jose Figueroa, Outside Parks Assistant Manager. “But the fields were so compacted that water wasn’t penetrating. We verti-drained—which puts holes in the soil to give it air—so when it rains, the water can go right through the soil.”

Jose explains that verti-draining is a best practice that’s completed about once a month on a lawn or ballfield, depending on its use. In the summer, for instance, Conservancy staff regularly verti-drain lawns—with major concert and event dates in mind—to relieve stress on the grass from foot traffic.

Two groundskeepers at work at Ferry Point

Jose Figueroa, Outside Parks Assistant Manager, and a NYC Parks staff member use a sprinkler system to irrigate the fields at Ferry Point Park in the Bronx in 2019.

Another characteristic that sets apart the Five Borough and Historic Harlem Park programs—and is a huge help to other greenspaces—is that the Conservancy is equipped to perform its own equipment repairs. “If NYC Parks equipment goes down, it goes to their mechanics and can be out for weeks or months. They won’t get to continue their task,” Jose says. “We have spare parts, and the tools to repair our equipment. If a belt goes, we have spare belts—so we’ll keep on going. We won’t fall behind.”

A groundskeeper in full rain gear string-trims around a lamppost.

Rain or shine, the Five Borough Program assists parks throughout the City with mowing, removing weeds, fertilizing, irrigating, clearing leaves, pruning, and many other tasks.

The Conservancy is celebrating more than four decades as the caretakers of Central Park, and Jose has been a part of this invaluable work for more than 30 years. “Every day is different,” he says, adding that New Yorkers remain grateful for his team's work across the five boroughs, often giving them thumbs up and thanking them for taking care of their parks.

“The public appreciates our work ethic,” he continues. “I don’t see it as NYC Parks and the Conservancy—I see us as a team.”