The RIOC war on trees and the de-greening of Roosevelt Island


“When will RIOC’s war on our island trees stop?” she wrote. That was September, 2018, but “Just this week we lost an old maple behind the church,” another resident wrote. On December 17th, 2021.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

A Yearslong RIOC War on Trees

“I’ve been observing the mass destruction of our island’s trees for the last 16 years,” the 2018 observer continued. “I was hoping RIOC would start repairing the devastation they created. But no! It is just getting worse.”

Provoking that comment was the chopping down of two old growth trees, clearing them permanently from the Rivercross Lawn. The fresh gap allowed a blast of sunlight where shade once protected picnickers and made the place suddenly foreign. Its heart cut out.

September 2018, a RIOC contractor took down the oldest tree on the Rivercross Lawn, limb by limb. It was still healthy, with bright green leaves into autumn.

“I always loved that tree and wanted to paint it but I took him for granted….I never had enough time and I said it will be there for ever….,” wrote RIVAA artist Georgette Sinclair.

“The 2 trees that they chopped were older and different than the ones surrounding the green space… they had their dignity of old and were enchanting us with their beauty …. they were not aligned with the others…. is that why they killed it? Sorry I feel so strong about it, but I love nature and it hurts to see how we destroy it.”

The RIOC war on trees, sadly, neither began nor ended there.

A Little History for the Record

Back in the 1990s, drivers entering Roosevelt Island saw a “Tree City USA” sign. The community was proud of its commitment to nature and greenspace. There was an active tree group documenting every tree from north to south.

Some remember a beautifully graceful grove of willows on the east side of Lighthouse Park. In summer, runners and strollers swept a curtain of soft branches aside, passing others idling in the shade. Now, only one remains, although willows have gender and need company for new growth.

As we know, new growth runs against the grain of RIOC’s war on trees.

What went wrong?

It was inevitable. Unchecked, unaccountable management by uninvested outsiders will go wrong, all the time. And as the years pass, the losses multiply. The war on trees became fueled by RIOC’s strange lust for tourists and a suburban shopping mall esthetics they think is just right for Roosevelt Island.

In 2020, it was the long row of inkberry trees that shaded the otherwise overheated promenade south of the Meditation Steps. RIOC’s deep thinkers decided they must be chopped to near oblivion. The reason…? They blocked views of the river, RIOC said.

The shady inkberry tree row before.

And after….

But the ravaging of the inkberry row was soon forgotten because, days later, RIOC began destroying the last two stretches of natural shoreline on Roosevelt Island.

Revetment of the shorelines was necessary for repairing and strengthening against future storm damage. We all knew that, but a non-intrusive plan that included saving the wild growth strips along the borders was in place. RIOC scraped it, though, after investing a million dollars in development. They now refuse to say why they bought, instead, into a vastly more expensive – and ugly – Langan plan. Langan, also for unknown reasons, is RIOC’s preferred contractor – for everything.

The tree and wild grass filled shoreline in Southpoint and the marchers appealing to save it.

In 2021, RIOC hit the high point in its war against trees: The Shelton J. Haynes/Langan Roosevelt Island Rock Garden.

Replacing the trees in Southpoint today.

The Shelton J. Haynes/Langan Southpoint Rock Garden is so hideous that ,when Governor Kathy Hochul issued a press release about its wonders, she used twilight photos with colored filters.

Governor Kathy Hochul’s view of Southpoint

In her calling-in-all-the-troops-to-shout-“Hurrah!” press release, Hochul desperately wants you to look at the sunset, not the hideous Shelton J. Haynes/Langan Roosevelt Island Rock Garden.

What We Learn From the RIOC War on Trees

There’s a long history here, and now, with the full backing of Governor Andrew Cuomo-In-A-Dress, momentum is in RIOC’s favor, the community’s only hope is that trees are a finite presence. Eventually, they’ll have chopped them all down.

Even the tourists for whom RIOC lusts might see the light.

More from the Roosevelt Island Daily


  1. A tree outside the RI Community Garden on Main St (near FDNY operations) has recently been completely cut down too. Unsure of the reasoning and all that remains now is a tree stump and pile of logs.

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