On Monday, October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy tore into New York City. The storm’s destruction reached Fort Tryon Park, damaging and destroying over 100 trees and shuttering the park for 15 days.
Jennifer Hoppa, Northern Manhattan Parks Administrator and the executive director of the Fort Tryon Park Trust, said that on the Tuesday morning after the storm her first thought was, “Did the majestic elm on the Stan Michels Promenade make it?” The elm, one of many brought in by the Rockefeller family as mature specimens over 77 years ago, survived, although a huge pine had come down right in front of it.
The storm winds toppled the flagpole on the Linden Terrace, despite its thousand-pound base. The winds also uprooted an enormous oak that fell across the path to The Met Cloisters and numerous trees along Margaret Corbin Drive. Hoppa described the number of uprooted and fallen oaks along the Broadway Promenade as “staggering – trees had fallen like dominoes.”
On her first tour of the damage, Hoppa said, “Almost every path dead-ended in a fallen tree or multiple trees. It was an obstacle course trying to navigate certain areas of the park for inspection.” When she finally made it to the dog run, she noted, “It had so many trees down around it on three sides that I couldn’t tell that sections of pathway and retaining wall had come down in the storm.”
Manhattan Parks Commissioner William Castro also toured the damage. Hanging limbs, leaning trees, broken fencing, and cracked trees all posed hazards as gusts of winds continued to blow. NYC Parks enlisted the help of three tree crews to begin the task of storm clean up. Working 12-hour shifts over nine days, cranes removed trees that had fallen on top of the A train’s 190th Street Station building, as well as from Abby’s Lawn and the park’s eastern slope. Bucket trucks removed hanging limbs. Climbers and pruners shimmied up trees with chainsaws and removed suspended branches so they wouldn’t fall on park patrons on pathways below. The crews worked diligently even during the beginning of the nor’easter, which further damaged trees. An estimated 40 30-cubic-yard container truck loads of tree debris have been removed from the park with approximately 30 more to be relocated.
Then stump grinders extracted the massive tree stumps left behind by the storm and ground them into compost so that eventually new trees and plants could be planted in their place. The Junior League then partnered with NYC Parks to extend the restoration work along the Broadway side of Fort Tryon Park. Where heavy logs and machinery have compacted the soil, the top layers will be removed and replaced with new top soil, which will be aerated and seeded so that the lawns can be reestablished.
On November 2nd, 11th, and 23rd, NYC Parks, the Fort Tryon Park Trust, Partnership for Parks, NYC Service and the Junior League galvanized volunteers who invested over 550 volunteer hours to help bag tree debris and leaves, twigs, and soil to make paths and lawns usable again. And volunteer service continues, with individuals clearing drains to prevent further slope erosion and cleaning staircases of natural debris to improve access. At the Friends Committee Beautification Day on November 25th, volunteers cleared out the Subway Terrace and planted bulbs in preparation for a beautiful spring.
Additional efforts include repainting park benches and upgrading the Payson Park house for community programming. A grant from the City Gardens Club enabled the park to replant the entrance gardens along the Broadway expanse. Given that many plants were lost to uprooted trees and many entrances now are full-sun instead of shade gardens, much replanting work was needed. Finally, a new flagpole was installed on the David Rockefeller Linden Terrace where the storm knocked down the previous one. The storm damage presented us with an opportunity to return to the style of the Terrace’s original flagpole.
Hoppa anticipates that the overall recovery process will be ongoing over the next year or two as pathways and sections of retaining wall are rebuilt, benches replaced, and fencing reinstated. “Massive tree canopy has been lost,” she said. “Entirely new areas have been opened up to the sun,” said Hoppa, “which will require planting to prevent invasive species from taking over.” In other areas, the loss of trees has restored views of the Hudson River. Hoppa said, “In the next cycle of seasons, we will assess what will serve the park and its patrons best, and what can be sustained.”
Fort Tryon Park is resilient and beloved. The local community and visitors celebrated once the park was fully reopened. If you would like to join the many individuals who have made a contribution to help with the ongoing recovery effort, please make a donation today.