“Roosevelt Island Tree City USA.” There was a sign, back in the 90s, posted on Main Street near the helix. The community was proud of its trees, and there were plenty around. But in recent years, a lot of trees were lost along with the pride that was part of it.
By David Stone
One of my favorite Roosevelt Island places was a grove of weeping willows aligning the walking path on the east side of Lighthouse Park. Running through on summer mornings, then, I swept away the soft branches, jogging through.
The willows are gone, as are so many others, fallen to one ill-advised RIOC project after another. Like the brutal removal of old-growth trees on the Rivercross lawn, mainly giving a bloated staff something to do.
And even during the pandemic year, RIOC found time and resources for further erasing the memory of Roosevelt Island Tree City.
Roosevelt Island Tree City or “Chopped City?”
“I am convinced that Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation is on a mission, depriving us of ALL of our island bushes and trees,” wrote a concerned 20-year resident.
“Our streets used to be lined with blooming rose bushes and beautiful trees. Now all of them are getting cut down.”
Here’s what prompted her concern:
Without community discussion, of course, RIOC sent a crew out in July, hacking down a grove of inkberry trees providing a rare stretch of shade along the West Promenade.
A notice appeared on Twitter.
Roosevelt Island Tree City USA Contrast…
In its wisdom, RIOC released a statement from the then-acting president/CEO Shelton Haynes.
With unintended hilarity, he said, “After speaking to our Director of Landscaping and Horticulture, our Grounds Department was in the process of rejuvenating overgrown Ilex glabra (inkberry) plants.”
But Haynes never mentioned that the “rejuvenating” took place later than qualified experts recommend for preserving the trees. Did he even know? Or care?
The results were predictable.
“The overgrowth threatened to infringe on the walkway of the promenade, shade out other plantings and inhibit visibility in the area,” he added, but none of it was true. Haynes seemed, as he often is, to be mouthing staff excuses without thinking.
And, in fact, the inkberry trees did nothing of the kind or anything else that a little judicious pruning couldn’t resolve without all the destruction.
Flash forward one year…
RIOC’s 2020 attack on the legacy of Roosevelt Island Tree City yields the results we feared.
Because spring awakening would reveal the results, we took a walk through, last week, and it was devastating.
But pictures tell more than words. So, here is what we saw.
The hacked-down grove of inkberry trees has not rejuvenated, but a closer look reveals worse.
Dead, chopped tree stumps litter the area. RIOC promised they’d sprout new, fresh branches, springing back to life, but that didn’t happen. A majority have just died.
And even some of the new, ground-level growth is dying already. The grounds crew, so eager to hack away in 2020, couldn’t be bothered to prune the browned-out stems, even as visitors arrived to celebrate the cherry blossoms.
The sad end of Roosevelt Island Tree City?
The demise of our community’s environmental standards seems irreversible. A new administration has not changed RIOC. In recent days, in fact, locals expressed concerns that the state agency is now “worse than ever.”
Exposure may yield some accountability, prying RIOC out of its bunker mode, but that will take new leadership. The shambles left over after last year’s assault on decency is like a machine with its gears jammed, unoiled, and no handyman around for fixing it.
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