Bette Midler, singer, actress and founder of New York Restoration Project, and Academy Award Winner Marcia Gay Harden gathered alongside hundreds of dedicated volunteers in McCarren Park Friday to celebrate Arbor Day, and the continuation of Mayor Bloomberg’s “Million Tree Initiative.” Volunteers, ranging from pre-school to senior citizen, came from an equally diverse spread of organizations including City Year, International Arts and Business High School’s Project Peace, and Queens-based Service for Peace. The event commenced with a high-spirited speech from Midler, that implanted images of a greener tomorrow into onlookers, a sentiment which they carried from the stage to the many plots surrounding the playground and track where they dirtied their hands with fresh Brooklyn soil, digging new homes for the 120 newly planted trees.
As Girl Scout Troops 2966 and 2996 marched towards their assigned plot, a few members reflected on why planting trees in a crowded city like New York could make a difference. “There’re lots of factories, trucks, and buses,” one girl lamented. “And the air gets cleaner from this!” her friend chimed in. The others agreed that the trees had an important job here—taking in all that polluting carbon dioxide we expel into our atmosphere and breathing back the fresh, clean oxygen we need to survive.
Clusters of volunteers joked with one another while sharing the responsibility of delivering trees to their spots in the park. High school students from Project Peace said this was the first time they’d ever planted anything. “I guess if we can make one difference,” one student said, “this is it.” Queens teenager Monika, of Service for Peace, built upon the idea. “It’s so thoughtless of people to disregard the earth,” she said, brushing stray pieces of soil from the bends in her knuckle. “It’s hopeful to see more people taking care of our earth.”
The air must have been electrified with green spirit. Angie Nelson, a Greenpoint resident on her way out for coffee, noticed the crowd and inquired after the all the hoopla. Moments later, she was clad in her own “MillionTreesNYC” t-shirt and baseball cap, and armed with a shovel. It didn’t take much prodding from co-sponsors BNP Paribas to sign her up as a volunteer. “I love the movement and asked if I could help,” she said, taking a break from planting one of McCarren’s newest Red Oaks. “I didn’t know if they’d have space for me, but they said sure!”
Midler remained on-site, keeping the morale high, her own spirit ebullient from the success the morning had already brought. When asked if she had anything to say to the Greenpoint and Williamsburg communities she laughed. “Thank you for your patience! This movement is a jewel. It will snowball with more and more momentum and things will be more and more beautiful. Let’s keep going green. Green, green, green Greenpoint!”
Even park goers uninvolved with planting were entranced by 101.9 RXP’s sponsored live music, a feat accomplished using 99% biofuel. If it wasn’t the tunes, it was the free lunches. New York Restoration Project provided boxed lunches that put PB&J’s to shame. Many kids on the playground were just excited by the prospect of so much digging. Two little boys, one a few years older than the other, walked in slow circles from the swings back towards the turtles, taking in the action. The older one clarified the situation for his little companion, in his matter-of-fact elementary tone. “The less trees we have, the less air we have,” he said.
Thanks to MillionTreesNYC’s volunteers, we can all breathe easy.