The pandemic has certainly guided more of us out of our homes and into parks where we can socially distance and enjoy some time with friends. Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy (BOPC) executive director Stephanie Crockatt says that COVID increased visitors to the parks by 40 percent.
Crockatt says that this year they've got a lot of exciting changes on the way for park visitors, but also needs the community's help in protecting and caring for the parks.
One development underway by BOPC is bringing to life an arboretum, which was one of Frederick Law Olmsted’s original plans for South Park, where the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens are currently located. An arboretum is essentially a living tree museum - it's a park with a diverse number of trees that you can learn about.
Crockatt say they even have Olmsted’s original plans to build off of.
“This one he had planned out, we've got all of his planting plans, we know all of the plants that he wanted in there. We saw a little up of it that that got put in there. But it kind of faded away over time, and so we're trying to bring it back," Crockatt said.
When South Park was first constructed, thousands of trees were part of the landscape, but after the U.S. Open came to Buffalo in 1912, several tree groves were removed to make way for a golf course.
BOPC will start with phase one, which includes removing dead trees and cleaning up the living ones, and then phase two will include new amenities being added and the start of trees being planted.
Additionally, another change parkgoers can expect is BOPC updating its app to add more features.
The “Olmsted App” will be updated to include virtual reality experiences so you can see what some parks used to look like. It also offers maps that help people navigate the parks, find amenities, and see where accessibility features are for people with disabilities. The Olmsted App is available to smartphone users –– the icon is green leaves with an orange background.
Crockatt says these features are meant to help people connect with the mission of the parks and have a deeper experience.
"It just, it makes you feel a little bit more invested in part of your park, that you're not just a guest, but that this is this is yours. And that's the way these parks were meant from the very beginning. That's how they were designed is to connect people to their parks, and everyone is welcome," Crockatt said.
However, with more visitors, there has also been an increase in trash when the parks were already strapped for volunteers due to COVID-19. She says that people don’t realize how much litter impacts park workers.
“[Trash] slows us down about two to three hours every day. Before we can get to the work that we have to do," Crockatt said.
This year, BOPC is hoping to bring volunteers safely back. Crockatt says that they’ve come up with a safe way to host small groups who want to make a difference in the parks, and their help is needed.
“We need help even with just our beautiful flower gardens and the amount of weeding that has to happen as well as the additional planting. So there are some fun things that we need help with as well as just the regular maintenance of everything," Crockatt said.
This spring, as you head out into the parks and hopefully get involved, Crockatt added that visitors should remember to wear a mask when you’re near others, keep your dog on a leash, be kind to others and respect the landscape of the parks.