In Celebration of Earth Day, Riverside Park Conservancy Launches New Park-wide Compost Operations for all Plant Material

April 21, 2023

Riverside Park Conservancy today announced the launch of a new park-wide composting initiative to coordinate and increase on-site conversion of landscape waste into nutrient-rich compost. When operating at full capacity, the program is expected to return tons of organic material to the Park landscapes by allowing the leaves, clippings, and other plant material collected by Conservancy and NYC Parks staff during their normal maintenance operations to be processed at the newly equipped facility. This will minimize the amount of organic material from the Park ending up in landfills and reduce the need to purchase and truck in compost from external sites. Critical to the initiative’s success will be the program’s trained, on-site staff, who will oversee a healthy, closed-loop cycle.

The Conservancy works in partnership with NYC Parks to care for five parks: Riverside Park, Riverside Park South, Sakura Park, West Harlem Piers Park, and the shoreline portion of Fort Washington Park up to 181st Street. Comprising nearly 400 acres of public parkland, the area is enjoyed by millions of people each year and provides critical habitat for birds and other wildlife. In the course of their work, staff and volunteers collect tons of plant debris from the Park landscapes annually. In alignment with ongoing initiatives across the City’s parks system, the Conservancy’s Compost Initiative seeks to ensure that more of the fresh compost and wood chips needed for park operations can be generated directly in the Park rather than purchased, reducing trucking and cutting down on landfill waste. At the end of 2022, the Conservancy secured capital funding from a private donor to design and construct a new state-of-the-art “Compost Compound” at 95th Street to facilitate the Park’s on-site composting operations and restore the Park’s surrounding landscape.

“In examining our current practices and facilities, we saw a tremendous opportunity to reduce the amount of organic material we are sending to landfills where it fails to decompose properly,” said Merritt Birnbaum, President & CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy. “Our goal is to disrupt the waste cycle by turning our yard waste into nutrient-rich compost right here in the park and using it to nourish our landscapes. We want to promote Mother Nature’s own system for turning plants into soil and destigmatize the perception of composting as unnatural or unclean. Our hope is to be a model for yet another way that public parks can contribute to a greener, healthier city.”

“The Conservancy’s new composting initiative is an important part of our overarching goal to establish the highest standards of care and stewardship for the entire six miles of the Park,” said Micah Lasher, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Riverside Park Conservancy. “We’re thrilled to be contributing to a more sustainable future for Manhattan’s West Side and look forward to engaging directly with the community in this process.”

“As the caretaker of the City’s more than 30,000 acres of parks, composting has long been a regular part of our sustainable operating practices,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “This new composting initiative aligns with and supports our many composting efforts, and this investment in Riverside Park’s infrastructure will significantly contribute to our efforts to keep our parks cleaner and greener.”

With 40 current full-time Conservancy field staff, 60 full-time NYC Parks field staff, more than 4,500 annual volunteers, and an extremely active local community, Riverside Park has a unique opportunity to train and educate both Park professionals and the general public on the art and science of compost. With the help of grant funding from the NYC Green Relief and Recovery Fund, the Conservancy is adding a dedicated Compost Education Coordinator to its team. Together with other members of the Sustainability Department, this person will have a continuous presence at the Compost Compound to help maintain day-to-day operations and engage staff, volunteers, and the public in best practices for creating a healthy organic waste cycle.

In celebration of Earth Day, the Conservancy will kick off its free compost education programming with a four-part lecture series, funded by the Manhattan Borough President’s Office. Hosted at the 102nd Street Field House in Riverside Park, the interactive talks will focus on the intersections of soil health and environmental justice, featuring speakers with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise in the field. The first part in the series will take place on Saturday, April 22, at 10:00 am, and all are welcome to attend. Registration is encouraged. Visit for the full schedule.

“The Conservancy’s new composting capacity will transform Riverside Park’s carbon footprint and make for a greener West Side,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “From the summertime goats who serve as natural gardeners to this closed-loop composting initiative, the Conservancy is consistently a leader in innovative zero-waste tactics and sustainability.”

“Composting is critical for protecting our environment, enriching our green spaces, and helping us achieve our zero-waste goals. As usual, Riverside Park Conservancy is leading by example and taking steps to protect our green spaces for generations to come. I commend Riverside Park Conservancy for its investment in this composting program to maintain and preserve the beauty of Riverside Park — there is no price tag on the work they do for our community,” said Council Member Shaun Abreu.

“News about the climate crisis often talks about the results, not causes; decomposing organic waste is a big contributor to the gases that harm the atmosphere,” said Council Member Gale Brewer. “This new program in the five West Side parks aided by the Riverside Park Conservancy will help keep composting top-of-mind and help keep many, many tons of waste from entering landfills and creating those harmful gases. I hope this pilot project can be applied to all parks citywide.”

“We have made great strides in combatting sanitation concerns across the city – that is in part because non-profit organizations such as the Riverside Park Conservancy have stepped up to bolster sanitation and environmental justice efforts. As the summertime approaches and families are expected to enjoy our beautiful parks, it is crucial that we have the infrastructure necessary to continue composting efforts to maintain clean, green parks,” said Council Member Carmen De La Rosa. “We look forward to supporting the Conservancy’s efforts to educate our community about composting and plant waste in our public spaces, especially in celebration of Earth Day.”

The Compost Initiative is just one tenet of the Conservancy’s new Conservation and Sustainability Department, which was formed in 2022. The initiative focuses on several facets of urban park stewardship including tracking and expanding natural area conservation, reducing fossil fuel consumption and trash output, producing free public education programs, fostering citizen science opportunities, and participating in city-wide advocacy for park equity and environmental justice.

“Soil is alive: it is home to an astounding number of organisms and microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and insects. A teaspoon of healthy soil is estimated to contain literally billions of microorganisms. Soil is the basis of biodiversity. It feeds us, filters water, and absorbs an enormous amount of CO2. Yet soil around the planet has been exploited, contaminated, and exhausted through aggressive agriculture practices, industrialization, and pollution. New York City is no exception,” said Anastasia Galkowski, Manager of Sustainability. “By collaborating with NYC Parks and local communities to create compost within Riverside Park, we are forging new ways of working with the resiliency of the soil that sustains us. Learning about and nourishing soil is a form of restorative justice, an act of communal healing. It is truly an honor to be part of this project.”

The Conservancy welcomes inquiries from organizations and groups who are interested in partnerships, and from individuals or institutions that would like to explore research collaborations. The public is encouraged to contact [email protected] to subscribe for email updates about volunteer opportunities and free public programs.  

Riverside Park Conservancy works in partnership with the City of New York to restore, maintain and improve Riverside Park – across six miles, and five parks – running along the Hudson River in Manhattan from 59th Street to 181st Street. Over thirty-five years, the Conservancy has helped transform Riverside Park from a state of neglect to a welcoming oasis.

About Riverside Park Conservancy
From 59th Street to 181st Street, from riverfront to city-side, Riverside Park Conservancy cares for and enhances six miles of parkland for present and future generations. Working together with the New York City Parks Department, we make improvements as diverse as the park itself and the city it serves.

Committee on Parks & Recreation

New York City Council Preliminary 2024 Budget Hearing

March 23, 2023

Thank you and good afternoon. My name is Merritt Birnbaum, and I am the President & CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy. I want to start by thanking the administration for the capital funding to restore the Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Riverside Park. This act will save one of our City’s most unique architectural treasures from literally falling down – thank you!

Riverside Park Conservancy works in partnership with the Parks Department to care for 400 acres of parkland spread over 6 miles, from 59th Street to 181st Street in Manhattan. With an estimated 3 million annual visitors, our core users are residents from the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, West Harlem and Washington Heights.

I’m here to emphatically support the Play Fair Coalition’s advocacy efforts – and to urge the City to fulfill the Mayor’s campaign promise of 1 percent of the budget for Parks. After 40 years of austerity, the time is now to recognize our parks as essential infrastructure and a critical determinant of health, safety and social equity.

Our Conservancy is fortunate to be able to leverage private donations to supplement and enhance the work of the Parks Department. We employ a staff of 60 park professionals, including 24 full-time gardeners, and oversee nearly 40,000 hours of annual volunteer time from engaged community members. We produce over 250 free public events each year, and our sports camp serves more than 1,600 children from diverse neighborhoods across the five boroughs.

Despite these accomplishments, I’m here to underscore the challenges that we, and our counterparts at smaller parks, face every day. As an aging waterfront park with complex hardscape and landscape features, our park’s very survival is threatened by crumbling infrastructure and the daily reality of climate change.

We rely on our partners at the Parks Department for essential maintenance, trash management, and safety functions. At current funding levels, there are simply not enough staff to proactively address day-to-day problems before they become crises.

I want to underscore that having fewer Parks’ workers actually costs the City much more in the long run. When basic park needs go unaddressed, they become bigger and more expensive – such as the major drainage issues we are fighting in Riverside, where every rainfall causes massive flooding and erosion that threatens to destroy our beloved park. Millions of dollars in capital funding will be required to fix disasters that could have been solved earlier – and at a fraction of the cost.

We are by no means alone. Riverside is in a fortunate position to have a Conservancy that can leverage private dollars and local volunteers to help. Even as we struggle from a lack of adequate support, we recognize that other parks without access to these resources are in much more dire situations. The sad reality in our district and districts across the city is that the impact of underfunding for Parks is felt hardest by those who need it the most – communities of color and low-income neighborhoods.

The bottom line is that the City needs to stop divorcing its capital budget from its operational budget and start providing annual funding to adequately maintain our public spaces. It’s criminal that taxpayers are being burdened with the ballooning cost of deferred maintenance that could have been averted.

We are proud to be part of the Play Fair coalition, and we ask City Hall to live up to its campaign promises. It’s time to get our priorities right and ensure that every New Yorker has access to a safe, well cared-for park in their community. Thank you.

“While hundreds of different species of wildlife call New York City home, humans have a greater chance of encountering certain wildlife species than others. Whether it is a deer wandering across the road or a raccoon looking for something to eat, the possibility of a wildlife encounter exists every day and around every corner. Choose an animal from the column on the left side of this page to learn more about how to enjoy and coexist with them safely. And click here to find out more about what NYC’s wildlife is doing and where they can be spotted throughout the year.”

January 13, 2023

The Mayor’s Office of the City of New York has released its preliminary 2024 budget, which includes $62.3 million in funding for the restoration of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and Plaza in Riverside Park.

This huge milestone comes after years of advocacy from Riverside Park Conservancy, elected officials and the public. Among the project’s most active champions has been Council Member Gale Brewer, who launched a petition to save the monument last year that garnered thousands of signatures.

Located at 89th Street and Riverside Drive, the 20,000-square-foot, white marble monument commemorates the 370,000 servicemembers from New York who fought on behalf of the Union in the Civil War. A 2017 survey commissioned by the NYC Parks Department found the structure to be in a near-catastrophic state of decay and identified an urgent need to stabilize the surrounding hillside, embankments, and ceremonial plaza comprising nearly two acres of Riverside Park.

A unique piece of history and one of only five monuments in the New York City Parks System with landmark status, the proposed restoration project has significant support from numerous City officials including Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue, and Deputy Mayor of Operations Meera Joshi.

“Investing in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is deeply meaningful to New Yorkers, and we are thrilled that Mayor Adams has made this commitment to its full restoration,” said Merritt Birnbaum, President & CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy. “As both a place of remembrance and an homage to those who continue to serve our country, the memorial is not just a piece of history, it is a unique contributor to the active life and character of our Park – and a treasure for our entire City.”

Work started on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and Plaza in 1900, and the structure was completed and unveiled to the public in 1902. Then-president Theodore Roosevelt officiated at the dedication ceremony. With an enduring message that continues to resonate today, during the ceremony, orator General Albert Shaw commented that it was not a “memorial of conquest, but signifies the Nation’s appreciation of the victors who saved it in the supreme crisis of fate.”

“This is a historic moment for this historic monument, which was last restored in 1962, and has fallen into grave disrepair in the decades since,” said Micah Lasher, Chair of Riverside Park Conservancy’s Board of Trustees. “The countless New Yorkers for whom the Soldiers and Sailors Monument has been a place to remember, recreate, and repose are incredibly grateful to Mayor Adams, Commissioner Donoghue, and their teams for recognizing the need so quickly upon taking office and acting on it.”

“We are grateful to the City and its leadership for preserving this monument completed more than 120 years ago to memorialize the Union soldiers and sailors who bravely served in the Civil War,” said USN Commander Peter Galasinao (ret), President of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Association of Riverside Park Conservancy. “Over the decades, this community has expanded to memorialize all men and women who have served our country and who have paid with their lives. We will never forget their and their families’ sacrifice. It is befitting that this monument stands to help us carry on the tradition and to remember those no longer with us.”

Read more from the Mayor’s Office here.

About Riverside Park Conservancy
From 59th Street to 181st Street, from riverfront to city-side, Riverside Park Conservancy cares for and enhances six miles of parkland for present and future generations. Working together with the New York City Parks Department, we make improvements as diverse as the park itself and the city it serves.

“If you walk into a park, the odds are pretty high that you’ll find an invasive plant species, like buckthorn, giant hogweed, or multiflora rose. These resilient plants can often grow uncontrollably and out-compete native species for resources, which has consequences for native wildlife that depend on other native plants. They can also be incredibly difficult to remove. That’s why a growing number of parks across the United States are turning to unlikely helpers: goats.”

“At its annual spring benefit on June 7, Riverside Park Conservancy honored Lori Bassman and Mary Frances Shaughnessy, two members of the board who helped to create and grow the organization into what it is today. The Conservancy’s benefit, titled “Together Again,” was their first in-person annual fundraiser since 2019, and it was a great success.”