Spanning 843 acres, Central Park offers families the ideal landscape for exploration and discovery. Last Fall the Central Park Conservancy launched the Keeping it Green for Families program where families are invited to help keep the park clean and green on select Sundays in the spring and fall. We chatted with Bonnie Ralston, Environmental Education Coordinator at the Central Park Conservancy about this new program that gets families outside and working together!

What are the main activities families will be doing as part of the Keeping it Green program?

Families help to spread mulch in the Park in the spring, using wheelbarrows, mulch rakes, and pitchforks. In the fall, we add leaf-raking to the mix.

Are clean-up activities broken out into different age groups?

The beauty of family volunteer projects like mulching and leaf-raking is that everyone can participate! We provide age-appropriate tools so that parents, children and grandparents can work alongside one another. While we recommend the program is for ages 5+, we have had participants as young as 3-years-old join in the fun.

What is the value of volunteering with the Keeping it Green initiative? How does the Keeping it Green Initiative help Central Park? How have you seen children grow by giving back through an environmental organization?

Our programs tend to take place in the north and middle section of the Park, and for many families, these are new areas of the Park they have yet to discover. Families have an opportunity to engage and connect with the Park in a different way than perhaps they have before, learning and working together while improving their Park. The sense of pride a child feels when she’s successfully navigated a full wheelbarrow over a bumpy path, or carefully spread mulch near the base of a tree—these experiences are as meaningful for parents as they are for children. It’s so important that children are able to understand their role in conserving and protecting cultural treasures like Central Park. And parents have shared that their children are bringing their learning home with them. For example, one child had observed how a street tree in his neighborhood was mulched properly so that the rain would reach its roots. Finally, participants in Keeping it Green become a part of something much greater than a volunteer program—they become members of the sustaining community of Central Park. It is impossible for the Conservancy to maintain all 843 acres of the Park on our own, and the service that our Keeping it Green families provide do is invaluable. 

How far in advance should you RSVP if you would like to participate? 

As pre-registration is required, and spaces are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, we recommend registering as early as possible—spaces fill up quickly!

Who leads the clean-up activity?

A Central Park Conservancy environmental educator leads each session with the assistance of horticulture volunteers. Sessions begin with a discussion about the Park and the Conservancy, volunteering, the ecological benefits of mulching and leaf-raking and proper tool use. The educator and volunteers work alongside family volunteers throughout the session.

What is the appropriate attire/gear that should be worn to effectively participate?

We ask that all participants wear clothes they wouldn’t mind getting dirty. Closed-toed shoes are a must. We provide gloves and tools, but do ask that families bring their own water.

Any future plans for Central Park that our families can look forward to?

Oh yes! There are two sessions left in our three-part On a Wing Festival that celebrates Central Park’s winged wildlife, from red-tailed hawks to fanciful Monarch butterflies. Remaining dates are May 10, and May 17, there is no pre-registration, and all ages are welcome.

Beginning June 15 and running through August 31, families are invited every Sunday to attend our Family Performance Festival in the Peter Jay Sharp Children’s Glade (which our most recent Keeping it Green for Families group just mulched!). The program runs from 12:00-1:30 pm and is free to the public. 

What are the hidden “gem” spots for family friendly activities?

Hard to pick just one! Families are encouraged to borrow Discovery Kits from either the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center (212.860.1370) or Belvedere Castle (212.772.0210) to enhance their exploration of the woodlands of Central Park. Discovery Kit backpacks include a pair of binoculars, field guides, a hand lens, colored pencils and paper.

Chess, checkers and board games can be enjoyed at the Chess & Checkers House, Wednesdays-Sundays from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.

And for those families interested in more active games, field day kits (which include balls, bats, Frisbees, and jump ropes) can be borrowed Tuesdays-Sundays from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm at the North Meadow Recreation Center.

Photos: Central Park Conservancy
The Keeping it Green program is made possible by GM.

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