Contributing Writer: Haven Colgate, Chair, Hastings-on-Hudson Conservation Commission

I arrived in Hastings-on-Hudson in 2002. Hillside Park & Woods was a marvel to me: twenty minutes from Manhattan and there’s this sylvan oasis: a peaceful one hundred acres of trees and trails, streams and even a pond.

Having grown up in the city, I was not at all a naturalist. I didn’t know that there were subspecies of oaks, or maples — or forty kinds of goldenrods. I couldn’t pick poison ivy out of a lineup. I mean, three green leaves? All leaves are green; how can you tell the difference?!

Justin and Truck
Staging With Volunteers

I learned all about our local preserve through the elementary school’s PTSA nature program, then was drafted to our Village’s Conservation Commission. My fellow commissioners Andy, Sharon and I sat in the town diner in 2016 to brainstorm what to do about the woods, which we all had come to realize is in terrible shape.

There ensued public meetings, the solicitation of experts, grants and more grants, to draft and then implement a forest management plan — only to have efforts derailed during the pandemic, and finally picked up again more recently by the Village. The amended plan calls for a thiry-acre deer exclosure, the management of invasive species, and the reintroduction of native plants that have been extirpated by deer overbrowsing.

Imagine our delight when the USDA Forest Service contacted us, through a county parks curator, about conducting a research study in our urban forest. The researcher, Justin Bowers, a PhD candidate at CUNY, would plant and fence four white and chestnut oak tree plots to study oak regeneration in canopy gaps, including in gaps created by Beech Leaf Disease (American beech are 12% of our woods). The bonus to Hillside is that the trees would remain long after the study was concluded and complement the restoration project already underway.

A score of around fifteen volunteers organized by Westchester Parks came to Hillside Woods over two days at the beginning of November. We lugged Justin’s 600+ oak seedlings out of his U-Haul and about 500 feet into the woods, then staged them in one of the clearings Justin had identified. The next day, we transferred 120 or so of them into a second plot and began to plant. Both are fenced with tree-to-tree deer fencing.

How to Plant a Tree
Planting in a Grid

We planted the seedlings in a 3’ grid. We only got through a handful of trees, as the beeches, while dying, still have lots of roots! More volunteer days to come!

To volunteer with Westchester Parks Foundation, contact WPF Volunteers at [email protected].

To learn more about the Hillside Woods Restoration Project, see: