BRONX, N.Y. — On a recent sunny fall day, Penny Brown joined dozens of volunteers along the banks of the Bronx River in the Olinville section of The Bronx. It’s a part of the river that looks downright bucolic despite the nearby Bronx River Parkway’s presence.
Brown is a Conservation Crew Leader with the Bronx River Alliance, an organization she’s been part of for nearly all of its 20 years protecting, improving and restoring the Bronx River. She confesses she didn't know much about growing up in Hunts Point, despite crossing it daily to get to High School.
"It was kind of a like a cycle, I was kind of happy that I was able to really be involved in something every day and wondering what it was so now I have my hands in it,” said Brown, who trained with another organization Sustainable South Bronx before she was hired by the alliance in 2003.
Brown was there as staff and volunteers planted 250 trees and shrubs along the river, a portion damaged by Hurricane Ida in early September. The storm washed away plantings and brought down two large willow trees.
"What happens in an urban forest when there's a gap is all the invasive plants want to rush in and so what we are doing out here today is planting a bunch of native trees that will grow quickly and will overshadow those invasive plants," said Maggie Greenfield, Executive Director of the Bronx River Alliance and Bronx River Administrator for NYC Parks.
Andrea Estrada of Queens is hoping to take a similar path as Penny Brown. She is volunteering as part of The Hope Program's Intervine Training for Green Jobs, which focuses on the environment, sustainability and curtailing the impact of climate change.
"I think it's really awesome that the Bronx River Alliance is doing an ecological restoration and working to restore the native species, and wildlife," said Estrada.
The work combats years of pollution in the city's only fresh water river, which runs 23 miles from Westchester County near White Plains into the East River.
Penny Brown says things are a lot better than when she started at the alliance in 2003 and helping the river has enriched her life as well.
"Working for Bronx River Alliance has given me something to feel proud about and I've given to my kids and they can give to their kids."
Brown recommends New Yorkers find a quiet spot along the river where they can just sit and get lost, a little escape from the city.