Volume 75, Number 34 | January 11 - 17, 200

Much mulching of Christmas trees to help city parks

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel
A local Cub Scout, one of many who volunteered to retrieve trees left at curbside and bring them into the park to be mulched, pulled several into the park.

By Bonnie Rosenstock

Fling in the old, fling out the new. So it went in Tompkins Square Park on Sat. Jan. 7, as East Villagers schlepped, wheeled, carried and dragged their Christmas trees and wreaths to be recycled into wood chip mulch as part of the New York City Parks Department’s 10th Annual MulchFest.

The big mean orange mulching machine gnashed its jagged teeth and rapidly ingested the green pine needles and wooden branches, which a Parks employee fed into it. The masticated mulch was then ejected through a pipe, sailed through the air and landed into growing mounds on the nearby ground. Mixed with autumn’s now desiccated fallen leaves, the wood chips will enrich the soil, control the growth of weeds and act as a natural protective ground cover for the neighborhood park. Some savvy area residents with green thumbs also came by with plastic shopping bags to take advantage of the free mulch for their own gardens or their block’s tree beds.

Robin Burchill of E. Third St. was chipper about the recycling program. “You cut down the tree, you figure you try to do something good afterwards. Maybe it helps justify chopping down a tree every year,” she said.

But the eight boys ages 11 to 16 of Boy Scout Troop 414, sponsored by Immaculate Conception Church, where they meet, at 414 First Ave. at 14th St., had community service and scout badges on their minds. They combed the neighborhood looking for discarded trees, tied several together and dragged them, caravan style, back to the park. Various members of the troop have been doing this as their January service project for the past five years, noted Assistant Scout Master Bob Vitrwal.

“We came one year to Washington Square Park in minus-10-degree weather,” Vitrwal said. “Last year, it was raining. One year we had a heavy snow. It’s right in line with scouting and conservation,” he said.

By almost 1 p.m., the boys had been at it for three hours in below-freezing temperatures.

“Now we’ll take them for pizza,” said Scout Master David Cook, who was wearing a bright red scouting jacket covered with badges. “We actually know the [Parks Department] commissioner after all these years.”

MulchFest traditionally takes place on the second Saturday and Sunday after New Year’s, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This year, 39 sites citywide were part of the recycling effort. In this area, Tompkins Square Park and Washington Square Park saw mulch activity on Saturday, and Union Square Park was a designated drop-off area (no mulching) on Sunday. The number of trees mulched this year was 8,853, with 2,382 in Manhattan alone.

By noon, a Parks Department employee claimed they had mulched an estimated 380 discarded Christmas trees in Tompkins Square Park. They expected the number to rise to about 500 by the close of the day. However, a little before 1 p.m., the workers swept up the pine needles and other debris on the path, packed up their equipment and drove off in the truck, a full hour before the official end of the program. Oh well, mulch ado — and then nothing.

The Department of Sanitation will continue curbside pickups of old Christmas trees for recycling through Jan. 14.

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