if yer not forest,
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Inwood Hill Park
Manhattan, New York
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MAP DeLorme

Inwood Hill Park
Manhattan, New York City

Inwood Hill Park is one of the places in America we would least expect to harbor an ancient forest: New York City. At the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island at the mouth of the Hudson River is a 100-foot-high, rocky pinnacle of cliffs and boulders, with trees surpassing four feet in diameter and 200 years of age. Surrounded by one of the highest density human populations on the continent, Inwood Hill has been kept as forest since the American Revolution. Although the Park is amidst one of the busiest places in America, easily accessible by the bustling public of New York City, Inwood Hill Park remains a quiet sanctuary of inspiration and reverence for nature.

Inwood Hill Park is one of New York City's oldest parks, and a real high point of pride for the city's Parks Department. While midtown Manhattan's Central Park is a unique open greenspace, Inwood Hill Park is a smaller sanctuary for a more primeval urban forest. While the hill was cut heavily in the early colonial period, after the American Revolution the land was part of an estate, and minimal cutting for timber and firewood took place. Consequently, today the site is an exemplary and impressive second-growth forest.
Inwood Hill Park
Manhattan, New York

PHOTO DYarrow 8/12/02

The dominant species are tuliptrees and red oaks, which reach up to 100 feet high, with stout trunks up to four feet across. In some areas, however, these immense trees are dwarfed by cliffs and boulders of equal or greater scale. Yet, these giant trees create a dense, high canopy that shelters visitors hiking the well-worn asphalt paths, and deadens the distant drone and buzz of the restless, motorized metropolis.

New York City's Parks Department takes extra effort to preserve this ancient forest on the hill. This includes removing alien invasive species and planting a broader diversity of native species. Like many disturbed urban forests, Inwood Hill is afflicted with a variety of competitive tree and understory species that are displacing the native species. City park staff are experimenting with a variety of chemical and mechanical methods to remove and restrict these alien invaders.
Inwood Hill Park
Manhattan, New York

PHOTO DYarrow 8/12/02

Inwood Hill Park lost all of its majestic Eastern Hemlock trees in the last decade due to the hemlock wooly adelgid, a parasitic insect recently arrived from Japan. The Hill's hemlocks were of a size that once equaled the tuliptrees and oaks.

Inwood Hill Park is home to many ancient trees, some which are not native, but nonetheless are some of the oldest specimens of their species in North America. One such notable is a huge ginko: second largest in New York City and New York State, reaching upwards over 70 feet. Nearby, a good-sized Royal Pawlonia looks out of place amid the native hardwoods.

Inwood Hill Park recently gained added notoriety with two new residents: a pair of American Eagles. Since this great bird's decline into Endangered Species status due to reproductive failure caused by DDT insecticides, a national conservation effort has bred these birds in captivity and re-introduced breeding pairs to former habitats that no longer hold bald eagles. This secondary old growth forest is one of the most ambitious efforts yet selected for the restoration of this raptor that is the symbol of the United States government. While the area around the eagle's nesting site is fenced to keep humansaway, a video camera in the treetop monitors the eagles 24-hours a day. Park visitors can watch the eagles live on a TV in the Nature Center at the base of the hill.
Fallen Red Oak Giant
NYS DEC Forester Lou Sebesta
cross-section cut 35 feet above the ground
Inwood Hill Park, New York City

PHOTO DYarrow 8/12/02

First Scouting Visit
July 12, 2002

Team Leader: David Yarrow
Assistant: Lou Sebesta

July 11-14, 2002 the NYS Urban Forestry conference was held at St. Vincent's College in Riverside, a section of the Bronx that is on the east shore of the Hudson River. On Friday of the conference, tour buses took us through the crowded, busy streets of America's largest city to the north tip of Manhattan. From the tiny parking area, we hiked through a wide field and recreation area, around the south end of a small bay—a tidal basin, mud-filled at low tide, with ducks, swans and seabirds swimminmg in a tiny puddle at its center. The park is surprisingly large—filled with dozens of city residents, yet still seemingly open and empty—a relief from the city's jammed streets and crowded sidewalks.
see also:
Ancient New York
just off the expressway
New York Times
July 13, 2002

Our group of over 60 hiked to the summit of the hill, stopping at intervals for talks by Parks Dept. staff explaining various features, histories and experiments. Amidst the giant tuliptrees and red oaks, even our large group was dwarfed into minor significance. While the trees were several scales smaller than Manhattan high rises, nonetheless, the forest has a sense of size and age that is greater than our human scale.

The pathway to the top carries a daily total of hundreds of hikers, and is paved with asphalt wide enough to drive a truck. As soon as the path leaves the flat, open fields and begins to climb the hill, the trees close into cover us in a forest. The path threads its way through giant trees and boulders, with understory small trees and shrubs close on both sides. The idea we were in Manhattan was quickly lost amid this thick enclosure of greenery tucked in the stony folds of the hillside.
Inwood Hill Park
Hudson River and The Palisades from the hilltop
Manhattan, New York

PHOTO DYarrow 8/12/02

One immense red oak had recently toppled in a windstorm and fallen across the asphalt path. Park staff quickly sliced the trunk into round bolls and rolled them off the path. Management regulations prevent them from removing any plant material from the forest, so the immense trunk will remain where it fell to slowly rot and return to the topsoil, renewing and enriching it in the natural cycle of forest life. I took a photo of team member and DEC urban forester Lou Sebesta standing beside the upper end of this great tree's trunk.

We saw several areas where park staff were testing strategies to extirpate alien species. One disturbed area had recently been ripped up to remove an obnoxious, smothering vine from Asia. Another stark patch of dead trees was created by chemical treatment of black locust clones invading the mixed harwoods. Amid the tree skeletons, a few blackcherry and tuliptrees saplings had been planted to regenerate that man-made open space.

At the summit, we scrambled under a gap in a chain link fence coated with poison ivy. We left the shade and shelter of the hilltop forest to confront a stupendous view of the Hudson River, the New Jersey shore crowned by the columnar cliffs of the Palisades. After blinking in the sudden sunlight and snapping a few photos, we scurried back into the cool shade of this unexpected urban forest.

The Earth Restoration and Reforestation Alliancewww.championtrees.orgupdated 4/14/2003