A new community group consisting of residents from Forest Hills and nearby neighborhoods began the weekend with shovels in their hands and an environmental state of mind.
From 9 a.m. to noon, 31 volunteers landscaped tree pits along Continental Avenue, transforming it from a sight of stark and unfertile pits specked with weeds and litter to a colorful oasis of spring flowers and unique plants in fresh topsoil and mulch.
The founder of the Forest Hills Green Team is Steve Melnick, a 23-year Forest Hills resident and an HSBC Bank Analyst. For the past 10 years he has dedicated his time to Forest Hills and Rego Park, with roles as the founder of the Queens Boulevard Restoration Group and treasurer of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce.
Over the last few years, Melnick would coordinate a planting event celebrating Earth Day, as well as volunteer at the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance’s tree giveaways at MacDonald Park and participate in anti-graffiti initiatives.
“I’d volunteer throughout high school, and always wanted to better our environment, surroundings, and our quality of life,” he said.
From Queens Boulevard to Austin Street and steps away from Station Square, various seasonal annuals and perennials found their home alongside mature Honey Locust trees and a couple young Oaks.
“We were aiming for something that’s vivid, eye-catching, and easy to maintain,” said Melnick. “I felt it would be great to do an initiative locally while participating in a worldwide initiative.”
Money for the new plantings were allocated by Green Mountain Energy and the Parks Department. And Green Mountain Energy helped the Green Team in the distribution of flyers featuring the environmental, social, and economic benefits of planting trees.
“People feel serene when they are near trees,” Melnick said.
Recently, Melnick took volunteers on a walk-through meeting along Continental Avenue. Some observations were missing tree guards or significantly damaged tree guards meriting repairs or replacement, as a result of their potential risks to passersby.
Even though the volunteers focused on one major thoroughfare, they coined Forest Hills Green Team to expand their future green causes neighborhood-wide.
“We need to have as many green public spaces as possible in Forest Hills and Rego Park, and extend it to our sidewalks,” Melnick said.
The Forest Hills Green Team is trying to increase its volunteer base, raise funds for t-shirts, and have local merchants contribute funding.
“Citibank on Continental Avenue expressed some potential interest in a future project,” Melnick said. “Business involvement helps business, too.”
Volunteers for last weekend's event included members of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, six members of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 96, and local residents.
“Earth Day is an opportunity to remind everyone that nature is not a place we visit on vacation, but we are part of it every day, and we are responsible for it,” said Judi Blatt Nichols of Minuteman Press, 102-07 Queens Boulevard. “I'd love to see a cleaner neighborhood with less garbage on the streets. If people see a place that is cared for with flowers planted, it creates pride, and hopefully, people will be less likely to be careless.”
“I remember the first Earth Day in 1970,” said 30-year Forst Hills resident Steve Goodman. “With all the negativity in the world, it’s nice to do something uplifting. Every time I pass a tree or flower that I planted, I can say I did it. I always try to do something relevant, and wish people would take better care of our streets.”
One of the youngest volunteers was Anna Akimova of Kew Gardens. “We’re giving back to the Earth what she has given us,” she said while planting Pansies. “It’s good coming together with people that also want to support your cause and get digging.”
Melnick took pride in the three hours worth of work, and referred to the tree pits as “green works of art.”
“Everyone chose how they wanted to plant their flowers in regard to color and patterns, despite limited space,” he said. “It’s important for people to participate in even the smallest projects to improve their community and the environment. This is good for the soul, and we need to instill that type of spirit into children at young ages.”
The public can volunteer and offer suggestions by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org