The future of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks is starting to look greener and healthier thanks to many of the organic initiatives that we have seen implemented in recent years. As forward thinking ideas of ‘plant zoos’ and ‘maintained meadow areas‘ move from concepts to realities, Olmsted Parks are uniquely positioned to become sustainable examples of how organic practices can lead to living better lives. The goodness of green doesn’t stop there however. Olmsted is looking to make a trendsetting example of Allentown’s Days Park by rethinking how its smallest park can be a lead the way for the entire Olmsted park system to flourish.
For years people have thought that the more a park looks like a golf course, the healthier it must be. Mow the lawn as often as possible and clear the brush for the best views around. Unfortunately, those practices have led to unhealthy parks with poor soil and turf. These practices have also begun to impact the health of the trees. As these fragile ecosystems deteriorate so does the quality of life for the inhabitants – bees, birds, animals and of course people. What may look like a flourishing park to the residents, is quite a different story…
The first order of change must be to address soil restoration. Olmsted Park landscape design professional Brian Dold refers to the project as Olmsted Naturally. “This is a staff-driven process at the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy to make the parks more sustainable and (eventually) cost effective,” Brian told me. “From creating composting piles to eradicating invasive species, our staff will be bringing the wild back to the parks. We need to restore the right plant materials that feed the indigenous species. This is restoration in its purest form. The shrub layer is virtually gone because in recent history people only cared about the tree canopy. We must reenergize the soil in order to help the roots of the trees and the plants so that they can dig in and grow. That will help to make the foliage more resilient to the park’s daily wear and tear. At this point, the turf in Days Park is pretty much gone. The trees are showing some decline from turf compaction. Days Park is the perfect place to test organic practices because it’s a small manageable 1.8 acre park.”
It looks like Days Park might one day go from a formerly lost Olmsted Park to the organic poster child for the entire park system. In order to do this, Olmsted plans on forming grassroots bonds with the Days Park Block Club as well as Medaille College so as to promote student and the community involvement. The hope is, that as the park begins to transform, neighboring schools such as the Elmwood Village Charter School will use the park grounds as life lessons on how to live in a sustainable environment. “Olmsted has interns working on several interrelated programs and projects,” Steven Nagowski (Volunteer Coordinator at Olmsted Parks) pointed out. Even now we have an intern completing our “native plant guide” which has a thorough listing of native plants to Western New York and their growth characteristics and preferred growing conditions. Olmsted is creating a complete listing of “preferred bird habitats” to allow us to choose groupings of perennials, shrubs and trees that support bird habitat. We’re also researching the best practices for controlling some of the more troublesome invasive plants within the Olmsted parks system – there is a strong possibility of using a predominantly organic control method via a partnership with the Cornell Cooperative in the future. Olmsted has teamed up with Erie Community College to create a special course, offered every semester, for students to come into an Olmsted Park, test the soil PH, take soil samples to assess the soil composition and take special samples for the Cornell Cooperative to fully understand and comprehensively map out all of our soils in the entire Olmsted Parks System. This comprehensive map will allow our Landscape Architect Team to better select the plants that are best suited to the specific soil conditions to allow us to better replant, restore and enhance our Olmsted Park System.”
As for the timeline, Olmsted is currently looking to secure funding for the initiative so that it can begin to implement the plan to restore Days Park into a leading organic park and healthy community resource. Olmsted Parks Conservancy President and CEO Thomas Herrera-Mishler has stated that he hopes that this living test model will someday lead to Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks being the greenest historic park system in North America.