The Open Space Institute, in coordination with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program and the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance, sponsored two weeks of a socially distanced tree planting at OSI’s River-to-Ridge Trail in New Paltz with the goal of improving water quality in the Wallkill River. Over the span of the project, nearly 30 volunteers planted 110 trees and shrubs.
Planting along the riverbank will increase the visual aesthetics along the trail, while helping filter runoff into the stream, preventing erosion of the land along the river and providing additional wildlife habitat.
“This tree and shrub planting event had long been envisioned as a project for the Wallkill section of the River-to-Ridge Trail to improve the long-term health of the local rivers and other waterways,” said Peter Karis, OSI’s Capital Project & Design Manager. “OSI is grateful to our partners and our volunteers, who were able to adapt and accommodate a new methodology so that the planting could be conducted safely. This project was truly a community effort.”
A variety of native, water-resistant and water-loving plant species were planted at the site including Black Willow, Flowering Dogwood, River Birch, Silver Maple, Black Chokeberry, Silky Dogwood, Swamp Rose, and Witchhazel among others.
For local organizers, the project at the OSI River-to-Ridge property was a test run for how organizations can host outdoor volunteer planting events while still following Covid-19 public health and safety guidelines. Volunteers had to pre-register and were limited to one person or family at a time for each two-hour slot. Prior to their arrival, OSI staff worked with DEC Hudson River Estuary Program staff to prepare the site, using color-coded flags to indicate planting locations and species.
The planting site covered approximately 100 feet of Wallkill River frontage and the area was clearly marked with additional signage listing public health and safety guidelines. The signage reminded volunteers to wear a mask or face covering, maintain social distance from each other and other trail users passing by, and stated that access to the site was limited to volunteers only.
To guide volunteers through this social distancing tree and shrub planting, DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program staff created a 15-minute training video, which was sent in advance to each volunteer who registered. Volunteers were also required to bring their own tools and cleaning materials to reduce the number of high touch surfaces at the site.
All of the planting materials, including tree tubes, stakes, and weed mats were provided by the DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program. Two members of the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance helped to coordinate volunteer signups, circulate instructions, and respond to volunteer questions.
Karis explained that the tree planting marks the latest OSI initiative aimed at improving water quality in the Wallkill River, “Riparian buffer corridors were incorporated into the trail design at River-to-Ridge between the river and active farm fields. These undisturbed corridors, of native vegetation and woodlands along streams, help to reduce pollution entering waterways by slowing down and filtering stormwater runoff.”
Buffers also help to reduce flooding and erosion by stabilizing stream banks and absorbing high-velocity flows. Wildlife use buffers as travel corridors and shoreline transition zones, which increases overall biodiversity and improve in-stream health.
About the Open Space Institute
The River-to-Ridge Trail provides access to a shared, public space that is open to diverse user groups. Created in partnership with Mohonk Preserve, and with funding from the Butler Conservation Fund, the River to Ridge Trail traverses 400 acres of the River-to- Ridge Preserve and connects people to one of OSI’s most successful conservation landscapes — the Shawangunk Ridge.
Over the past 40 years, OSI has protected nearly 33,000 acres on and along the Ridge, and now sets its sights on further connecting people to land it has protected and improved — from restoring over 12 miles of Victorian carriage roads, to the creation of a new Visitor Center at Minnewaska State Park Preserve. In downtown New Paltz and on the River-to-Ridge Trail, OSI’s commitment is already having an impact.
About the Hudson Estuary Program
The Hudson Estuary Trees for Tribs project is conducted through the NYSDEC Hudson River Estuary Program in collaboration with the New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell University. The NYSDEC’s Saratoga Tree Nursery is a key partner in this initiative, providing over 2500 seedlings for this year’s program.