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Environmental impact under the Kosciuszko Bridge: Hotels for bees, native plants and flowers galore for humans

How the NBK Parks Alliance pulls it all together

May 21, 2024 Mandie-Beth Chau
Karrie Whitkin, Dare Trotter, Lisa Bloodgood and Taj Ali of NBK Parks. Brooklyn Eagle Photos by John McCarten
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Families, friends and committed volunteers gathered at Under the K Bridge Park (UTK)’s plant nursery to build bee hotels and repot plants. The Garden Club at UTK focused on “rewilding” an industrialized setting and educating Brooklynites about the history of environmental damage in North Brooklyn.

“What we do here at Under the K Garden Club is have things focused on and centered around the nursery. That way, people can learn what these plants are and how they grow,” said Lisa Bloodgood, Director of Horticulture and Stewardship at the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance (NBK Parks). “Then we’re making these bee hotels to support our cavity-nesting wild bees. Hopefully, that brings more awareness to the struggle to keep our native bees alive and thriving in this environment.”

UTK opened in 2021, immersed in the Industrial Business Zone (IBZ). The park functions as a hub for native plants and wildlife but faces environmental challenges from the harsh effects of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, the IBZ, and invasive species like mugwort.

“This park is very special, very unique, in the sense that it’s the first park under elevated space — in this case, the Kosciuszko Bridge. NBK’s role is to help highlight these underserved or abandoned spaces and turn them over to where they become community benefits or community landmarks, and it’s beneficial to everyday folks,” said Taj Ali, who facilitates mobile operations across all the parks in Community District 1. 

One of the park’s primary assets is its plant nursery, where indigenous plants are grown and planted in parks across the district or distributed to various community efforts.

“We are growing all these native plants from seeds, and it’s popping off. All these plants are going back to parks in North Brooklyn or public spaces,” said Claudia Babcock, NBK Park’s newest gardener at UTK. “Being able to green up North Brooklyn out of Under the K’s nursery is just amazing.”

“There’s also a lot of stuff that needs to happen in the park itself. It’s a large park; it’s a new park in a very industrial setting. So we’re also using all of these plants growing here just to green up our park at Under the K Bridge,” Babcock continued. 

Volunteers gathered on Sunday, May 19, to learn more about UTK, the surrounding area’s needs and how the plant nursery addresses urgent ecological and environmental concerns in North Brooklyn. The event attracted several families and volunteers of all ages, with many constructing bee hotels made of wood, pine cones and straw. 

Albert Carroll Levin (age 5) with Becca Liss.
Albert Carroll Levin (age 5) with Becca Liss.

The bee hotels function to encourage native bees to thrive. Bloodgood explained that wild bees in New York City are integral to parks as they are essential pollinators, and many species are endangered. 

“There’s been a conflation of this catchphrase ‘save the bees.’ Everybody makes this assumption that it’s about the honeybees because they do have problems,” said Bloodgood. “Those bees compete for resources with our wild bees, and we need our specialized wild bees to do the things that they do and not catch diseases from the European honeybee or be out-competed by the European honeybee. We need to make sure we’re planting as many flowers that are going to bloom from March through November as possible to support all the different specialized bees that are coming out throughout the season.” 

With the event occurring the day before World Bee Day — May 20 — volunteers had the opportunity to work on both creating space for integral pollinators and also planting a support system.

“What’s so cool about this day is that we have something that we’re creating for native bees and also have plants that grow with those species. Native plants are incredibly important for moths and butterflies, but also native bees,” said Babcock. “It’s really cool that we have an insect activity but also a plant activity, and I’m hoping that people walk away from this event and can connect those dots.”

Miles Felton is a young volunteer who participated in the bee hotel activity. 

“I just wanted to volunteer to get to know New York a little bit better because I usually don’t go out much, but I wanted to try to come out more and do more for nature, especially because I love natural things,” said Felton.

A wall of potted plants at rewilding Under the K Bridge
A wall of potted plants.

Other volunteers worked on re-homing plants that had outgrown their pots. Some of the favorite plants amongst the volunteers were the wild strawberries and the sunflowers. 

A regular volunteer with NBK Parks and the Garden Club, Nick Rohn noted that working with plants helps him feel productive and alleviates some of his anxiety concerning environmental issues.

“It was really nice to stop by [Bushwick Inlet Park] two or three days later and see how the area looked after it had been left to sit,” said Rohn. “I like to make a lot of climate-oriented art because I have a lot of anxiety about that. Having an outlet like that has been good in addition to having a community outlet.”

Also working with the repotting team, Hannah Willig is a first-time volunteer who moved to Greenpoint from Midtown and wanted to take advantage of green spaces. 

“I was really excited to get involved with this to help maintain the green space because there are so many parks in such a small area in North Brooklyn,” said Willig. “You have to be a good steward of your community. If you want something to be nice and you want to have it there to use, you should be the one contributing to making it look nice. If there’s garbage, you should pick it up. If there’s a weed that needs to be pulled, you should be willing to do it. I think also having ownership of the parks in the area around you makes you appreciate them more.”

The NBK Parks team is working tirelessly to connect the community with UTK, a space that offers solutions to New York City’s lack of green spaces and North Brooklyn’s environmental scars. UTK is not simply a park; it’s a space where New Yorkers can develop solutions for the community’s ecological issues through rewilding efforts. 

“You’ve got waste management to the right, you’ve got metal scrap to the left, you’ve got concrete behind you, and this is a sanctuary for birds and animals, bees and bugs of all sorts to congregate and create a little bit more,” said gardener at UTK Dare Trotter. “We just want people to be more involved with keeping our green spaces healthy and making sure that people are more aware of how to treat these places because they don’t come so often.”

“We all have a collective mission of how we can better utilize the spaces that we have because folks and communities are yearning for more,” said Ali. “We have some tools here. What can we put together?”

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