Park is also about education and entertainment

Madelyn Wils in Hudson River Park.

Madelyn Wils in Hudson River Park.

BY MADELYN WILS  |  On June 20, hundreds of children from the New York City Housing Authority’s Chelsea Eliot and Fulton Houses will join their families in Hudson River Park. The youths will be showcasing their homemade water filters and plankton models at Maker Mania, the culmination of the Hudson River Park Trust’s month-long estuary engagement initiative in partnership with the Hudson Guild’s afterschool program.

But June 20 is far from an unusual day in the park. After all, in 2014 alone, our Environment and Education Department hosted 450 free and low-cost programs for more than 23,500 people — a 50 percent increase from 2013.

We’re incredibly proud of this programming, and it fulfills a critical part of our mission as stewards of one of the largest estuaries in the country. And it’s that astounding growth of those programs that helped make 2014 such a success for the Trust.

Our environmental education work is often overshadowed by more big-ticket projects in the park. Those were, of course, headlined by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg’s donation of more than $113 million toward the construction of a fantastic new public park-pier and performance space that will replace the aging Pier 54. This is the largest private donation to a public park in the history of New York City.

We also announced that RXR Realty will join developer Youngwoo & Associates to transform the historic Pier 57, in Chelsea, into a major retail and office hub, with a “sky park” and improved adjacent esplanade. This development will provide important long-term funding for park maintenance and operations.

But we don’t just build and fundraise in Hudson River Park. We educate. Much of that work, like our Maker Mania program, is geared toward students. Last year alone, we hosted nearly 300 school and camp fieldtrips — with more than half coming from boroughs outside Manhattan — for programs ranging from advanced fish biology for middle and high school students to animal- and plant-based scavenger hunts for preschoolers.


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Beyond our student programs, we also host large-scale events to help park visitors actively engage with, and learn about, the park’s natural environment. On Oct. 5, more than 4,500 people from across the city — and beyond — attended Submerge, New York City’s first and largest marine science festival, on Pier 26, in Tribeca. The daylong program, held in partnership with the New York Hall of Science, provided a unique opportunity to engage directly with scientists to experience the cutting-edge science, technology and engineering research responsible for helping us understand our coastal environment. 

Soon, Pier 26 will take on a more permanent role as the hub of our environmental and scientific educational programming. That’s because we reached a deal in December to partner with Clarkson University, Hudson River Clearwater and New York Hall of Science, along with other research partners, to oversee a new estuarium — a research and education center focused on river ecology — on Pier 26.

Beyond our educational offerings, summer brings more than 100 free and low-cost events in the park — truly something for everyone. We’re particularly excited about several new summer events for 2015 that we hope will become community favorites alongside our concerts and movies. On June 17 and 18, we’ll host the first Hudson River Park Dance Festival, a free event that will feature three of the best contemporary dance companies in the world: the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which just completed its Lincoln Center engagement, along with David Parsons and Ballet Hispanico.

And on June 13, our partner organization, Friends of Hudson River Park, will host the inaugural Hudson River Park Games, a fundraiser that will include a 36-team pentathlon with dodgeball, kayaking, beach volleyball, flag football and an obstacle course.

So while it’s understandable that the headlines typically focus on the large-scale development of the park, it’s clearly important to remember the events we host for New Yorkers from all five boroughs, and the educational environment we work to foster in the park every day. From thousands of people at our concerts and science fair down to a single student examining a plankton under a microscope, it’s these accomplishments that really bring the park to life.  

For all the front-page news, there are hundreds of untold stories of discovery and excitement for children from across the city. As we continue to build out the park and secure its financial future, we’ll never lose sight of how important these stories and experiences are.

 

Wils is president and C.E.O., Hudson River Park Trust

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