Funding is falling into place for the restoration of Hillside Woods and Park, which has been devastated by a combination of deer and invasive plants.
The final piece of the puzzle is an impending allocation of $100,000 from Westchester County to the Village of Hastings. On April 30, County Executive George Latimer recommended the funding to the Board of Legislators. The transaction will take the form of an intermunicipal agreement, by which the County will reimburse the Village as the work is done. The County will issue bonds to fund the work.
Hastings Village Manager Mary Beth Murphy said on May 10, “We expect to be able to use the funds in the next couple of months, once the County goes through the bonding process they have to engage in. It’s going to be used for fencing, removal of invasives, and planting of native species, both trees and understory.”
The funding applies to the 52 acres of Hillside Woods and Park co-owned by the County and the Village, according to Murphy. That acreage is in the eastern portion of the woods, north from Edgewood Avenue in Hastings to the Dobbs Ferry border, and east to the Saw Mill River Parkway. In total, Hillside Woods and Park is 100 acres.
The County’s ownership interest in the woods dates to an agreement made in December 1993 by the County and the Village. Going further back, to 1986, The Children’s Village (CV), a residential treatment facility based in Dobbs Ferry, sold the 52 acres to a single-family home developer.
When Coachlight Properties proposed to build close to 100 homes on the property, a campaign to save Hillside Woods raised close to $800,000 from local residents and organizations. That wasn’t enough to satisfy the developers, but in 1987 the stock market crashed and the developers defaulted on their mortgage. Hastings asked the County for help, and together they bought the property for $3,350,000, with Hastings holding a two-thirds interest and the County one third Hastings made up for what had not been raised in the “Save the Woods” campaign by floating a bond. Under the terms of the agreement with the County, the Village promised to assume full responsibility for the administration and management of the park.
Now, the County has stepped up to help Hastings protect their joint investment. The $100,000 is to be allocated among specific projects in the Urban Forest Management Plan developed for the Village by consultant Land Beyond the Sea in 2018. The County funding will direct $10,000 to culling Norway maples, an invasive species that has crowded out native trees and shrubs. Another $20,000 will be dedicated to invasive brush management, using a combination of hand tools and mechanical equipment. A total of 1,445 trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and ferns will be planted throughout the woods, with the work to include preparation of the site and mulching the beds, at $20,000. The largest single element is 2,000 linear feet of deer exclosure fencing, at $50,000. Murphy said that for the restoration to be a success, there had to be a way of protecting the new plantings.
“Right now our first step is creating an exclosure of about 5 acres and working on that, and expanding as we go,” she explained. “We’ll put in some permanent fencing in one area and some temporary fencing that will be movable as the project goes along.”
The goal is to eventually protect the woods with about 9,500 linear feet of deer exclosure fencing.
Hastings has taken advantage of varied funding opportunities for the woods. The Village learned last December that it would receive a $40,000 grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for hazard tree removal or pruning in the woods. Hastings is also expecting word on when the Village will receive a $250,000 grant from New York State that was arranged through state Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti. Together with the $100,000 from the County, Murphy said that should be enough to finish the restoration work.
In February, the Hastings Village Board dedicated Hillside Woods as parkland.
"The dedication of the land means it is parkland in perpetuity unless it's changed by the New York State Legislature,” Mayor Niki Armacost explained in an interview on May 11. “We've now dedicated, altogether, 156 acres of forest: most of it was Hillside Woods and Park, plus lots of tiny parks. So we're locking it in to the best of our ability. We have a real live example of the importance of a dedication: Quarry Park was given to the Village as a park and the Village turned it into a dump. As soon as Quarry Park is completed, probably in July, it too will be dedicated."
Murphy said the Hillside projects “will take some time,” and noted that there has been some delay in local governments receiving expected outside funding because of the coronavirus pandemic. But some of the work in Hillside Woods has begun with the help of local residents.
“Haven Colgate, the village naturalist, has been the local leader; she has led many, many volunteer efforts in Hillside Woods with regard to the removal of invasives,” Murphy said.
For more information about volunteer efforts, visit hastingsgreen.org.