There is much more to the new plantings at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation than meets the eye. Visitors will notice an array of attractive perennials, shrubs and trees that has been planted next to the Cross River in the Kimberly Bridge Picnic Area of Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. The new landscaping, while beautiful in its own right, actually serves a dual purpose.
The plantings will act as a “riparian buffer,” which will help stabilize the soil along the river’s banks and lessen the chance of scouring and erosion. This innovation will also improve water quality through biological and chemical processes, and provide shelter, shade and food for fish and wildlife that are dependent on streamside environments, according to the project’s sponsors.
The project was funded by the Westchester County Soil and Water Conservation District with financial assistance from the Soil and Water Conservation Committee of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Staff of the county departments of Parks, Recreation and Conservation and Planning installed the buffer.
“We want it to be beautiful, but we also want it to be functional,” said Taro Ietaka, recreation supervisor for Westchester County Parks. In an interview with The Record-Review, he said the riparian buffer was “a great investment” because it serves multiple purposes. Its assorted plantings block chemicals and other substances from entering local bodies of water, dissuade geese from settling in the area, prevent soil erosion in case of flooding, and help cool the water’s temperature by providing natural shade. “This particular planting shows you can have something other than lawn going to the water’s edge and it still looks nice,” Mr. Ietaka said.
The riparian buffer will also serve as a pollinator pathway that provides nutrition and habitats for the area’s butterflies, bumblebees, birds and other pollinators. All plants used in the project are native to the eastern United States. They include pin oak, eastern redbud and sweetbay magnolia trees; red-twig dogwood, sweet pepper bush, buttonbush and northern bayberry shrubs and New York ironweed, swamp milkweed, tussock sedge and blue flag iris perennials.
Officials hope the riparian buffer will serve as a model for residents, municipalities and businesses to emulate along watercourses, wetlands and water bodies throughout Westchester. To further this goal, interpretive signs have been installed for educational purposes.
“This riparian buffer positions Westchester County as a leader in the conservation space as it has a dual purpose of conserving county parkland and serves as an educational piece for residents and municipalities to further keep Westchester County land healthy and thriving,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer in a press release this week.
Norma Drummond, commissioner for the Westchester County Department of Planning, hailed the riparian buffer as an essential tool in modern watershed management. “Improving streamside environments to improve water quality and habitat has been a key outgrowth of the county’s watershed management planning,” Ms. Drummond said. “We’re pleased that we’re able to complete another model for this type of practice as a guide for county residents and businesses.” Ms. Drummond noted that the planning department has completed many similar projects as part of the county’s natural resources restoration and stormwater management program.
With mounting concerns over climate change and its impact on natural resources, this work has taken on new urgency, said Kathy O’Connor, commissioner of Westchester County Department of Parks. “Westchester County is home to more than 18,000 acres of naturally essential parkland. By installing this riparian buffer, we are keeping that land usable to residents while teaching about its importance to the natural world.”
To learn more about aquatic restoration projects completed in Westchester County, visit planning.westchestergov.com/completed-projects.