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NYC kids turn vacant lots into woods.

Schools in Harlem and Brooklyn have adopted vacant city lots and turned them into woodland classrooms, thanks to the efforts of Nancy Wolf, diehard New Yorker and hugger of city trees.

Wolf heads up a nonprofit environmental group that started a program two years ago called the Urban Woodlands Project.

Sixth-graders at a school in West Harlem took an empty lot with one lone pine tree, cleaned out the garbage (including disposable diapers, which the kids pronounced the "worst part"), prepared the soil by adding nutrients after comparing it to healthy samples, and then planted junipers, tulip trees, American beeches, and 18 other trees.

What's more, when they graduate, the students at Mott Hall school will pass along the care of their trees to succeeding classes.

One strong 11-year-old said, "My arms got tired, and I got arthritic pains," but his smile revealed glee at his accomplishment.

Another said, "Planting day was like all the sixth-graders fixing New York."

Then there are two schools in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn where, according to one writer, the closest thing the kids get to a nature outing is going to watch a condemned building burn. After skimming off layers of litter and rubble to find the dirt, the students planted 500 small trees and 250 shrubs for attracting wildlife.

A city forester, Mark Hengen, helped out by studying accounts by early Dutch and English naturalists to determine the area's indigenous species. On his advice, the kids planted tulip poplars, willow oaks, and white pines, recreating a slice of Brooklyn the way it might have appeared 200 years ago.

"It's wonderful to see the change in these kids," says Hengen. "They had never even seen worms or beetle larvae before."

Nancy Wolf founded the Environmental Action Coalition, the nonprofit group that oversees the program, after Earth Day '70 to create more "green spaces in city places." The environmental education program is partly sponsored by AFA's Global ReLeaf campaign with help from E. & J. Gallo Winery.

"The program has taken off like a rocket," says Wolf. This fall, students who attend a windowless school in the Bronx are going to plant trees in a lot that was once the site of an ice-skating rink.

More than once Wolf has fought to save trees. One time she was one link in a human chain that encircled a tree that had been hit by a truck and was going to be cut down. Another time she organized a boycott of Arbor Day to force the city to add a desperately needed second forester. "We had been asking nicely for another forester, but nothing happened. One thing they care about in this city is Arbor Day. " The boycott worked.

Like the kids in Harlem, the ones in Brooklyn are looking after their trees. When they visit to prune or pick up litter, they now see birds, butterflies, and squirrels. Says Wolf, "Some of these kids now want to grow up to be foresters and ornithologists."

Maybe someday one of them will be hired after a Wolf boycott.

Parts of this article were excerpted from The New York Conservationist and Newsday.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:American Forests
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest.
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