Ed Grimm is the author of Riverside Park: The Splendid Sliver.
It’s not as if Riverside Park hibernates all winter. The hardiest of the joggers and cyclists are out on its paths, children continue to flock to its 15 playgrounds, and when snow mantles the park, there are sledding and spirited snowball fights. Spring turns the page on all that and brings to the park not only a new season but a time of planning and preparation and plain hard work.
The hundred-year-old limestone Volunteer House at 107th Street in the park is the hub of that effort. Each year, volunteers contribute tens of thousands of hours to keep the park looking its best. Debbie Sheintoch oversees those efforts. These weeks she and her small army are busy pruning back shrubbery, planting trees, spreading wood chips, removing invasive plants and cleaning up the coastal areas down by the river. Several times this spring, their numbers will be reinforced by volunteer groups from schools and business organizations.
From playing fields to tennis courts, from dog runs to monument sites, Riverside Park is being readied for its hundreds of thousands of annual visitors. The work is intense, but so is the gratification. “The park inspires extraordinary devotion,” says Jim Dowell, president of the Riverside Park Fund.
It’s difficult to think of a more devoted group than The Garden People, who are breaking out planting and watering equipment for their 27th season. The gardens, which run from 90th to 91st Street on the promenade level, are cultivated and maintained by some 40 volunteers.
Terry Cohen has her own agenda. This year, it focuses on the “my neighborhood” curriculum of local schools. Each year, 1,500 schoolchildren visit the park for Terry’s introduction to the abundance and variety of nature in a city setting. This spring, four first-grade classes that visited the park in the fall for tree science studies are returning to study the park as a community resource. There’ll also be a May family program on the lawn near the tennis courts and a nature walk in June.
And then there is Jeff Nulle, who is preparing again to take a binocular-bedecked group on a springtime walk through the bird sanctuary from 116th to 124th Street. They’ll have their work cut out for them. More than 100 species touch down at the park each year.