Magazine

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 extends to parks throughout the five boroughs, too. Our Five Borough Program works exclusively in parks and landmarks across New York City, which is home to an incredible 30,000 acres of greenspace. In a year when COVID-19 has led to a growing desire to be outside—and budget cuts have caused a backup in City park care—this department’s work has been more important than ever.

‘Each Park is Unique’

A team of seven, our Five Borough team works year-round in the Historic Harlem Parks—Jackie Robinson Park, Marcus Garvey Park, Morningside Park, and St. Nicholas Park—and in other greenspaces where needs arise. “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 in Harlem. This summer marked Larry’s 22-year anniversary with the Conservancy.

Working side-by-side with NYC Parks staff, the Conservancy supports parks through lawn care including mowing, removing weeds, fertilizing, irrigating, aerating, and over-seeding; clearing leaves; plowing paths; repairing and replacing fences; pruning; removing 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.

How We Share Our Expertise

One of our team’s largest projects this past year was restoring ballfields 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 an 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 Program—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 Difficult Year

Due to COVID-19, many Five Borough projects and trainings were put on pause this spring—which was followed by a busy summer catching up on overdue maintenance. “Even if we can’t physically be close to NYC Parks staff, this has been an important time to do upkeep in other parks,” Jose says. “We did a great job this year considering we were short-staffed. No matter the circumstances, we always make our work happen.”

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

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

This month, the Conservancy is celebrating its 40th anniversary as 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 are visibly grateful for his team's work across the five boroughs, especially at such a dire time.

“For the last couple of months, people have been giving us the thumbs up and thanking us for taking care of their parks,” he continues. “The public appreciates our work ethic. I don’t see it as NYC Parks and the Conservancy—I see us as a team. We alternate with equipment and tools, and they take leadership of their parks.”