Spuyten Duyvil park stewards swing back into action


Jodie Colón originally founded the Friends of Spuyten Duyvil in 1995, shortly after moving to the area, because, she said, she wanted to live someplace in which she could invest her pride.

So, she decided to start taking care of the local green spaces herself.

The park stewards, a sub division of the Friends, are responsible for maintenance of Henry Hudson Park, Spuyten Duyvil Shorefront Park, the Spuyten Duyvil Library tree beds, and the Spuyten Duyvil Metro-North entrance garden. The difference between the stewards and any other volunteer is the parks department has trained them to take care of green spaces and they have been issued permits for their specific work locations.

And that preperation makes all the difference.

Rhea Varadi is one of three other park stewards who has volunteered in the Henry Hudson Park for the last five years. She said visitors are well-intentioned, but they don’t know which plantings are vital or native and they only end up being destructive.

Varadi said the parks department doesn’t have the budget or hands to meet the needs of the park and, as such, the park often ends up looking rundown. But, she said, she has both the time and a love for the outdoors, which is a win-win for her, and for the park.

During Covid Varadi said she used the park so often she realized what a community asset it is, so she began volunteering.

“It’s really gratifying to do something like that and have a nice area like that for families to come to the park,” she said.

Although the stewards are the only people qualified and approved by the city to perform constructive labor in the parks, the group hosts volunteer days once a month, inviting people of all ages to come and keep the parks tidy while they enjoy nature.

“I have gloves for toddlers,” Colón said, telling the story of a mother who brought her three year old to a volunteer day last fall. The little girl used a garbage picker to assist in clean-up. Afterward, the mother reported back that her daughter demanded her own garbage picker and now refuses to leave the house without it.

“This is my retirement, helping to make our community cleaner, greener, and safer,” Colón said.

When Colón first started the Friends of Spuyten Duyvil, she was just tending to the Spuyten Duyvil park, a green space she said she has kept as natural and wild as possible. Despite leading her own group of volunteers, she began volunteering with the Stewards of Henry Hudson Park in 2018 and, in 2021, the group asked her to take over their work.

So she did.

Colón morphed the two groups and their responsibilities together, taking on the task of maintaining four green spaces in total.

Colón has yearly events planned that draw both familiar and new faces. One of the Friends’ most popular activities is the Leaf Crunch, held every November.

The idea started when Colón had a large group of middle schoolers come to the park and she had to find a way to keep them entertained. So she decided to get their help raking all of the leaves into a giant pile, then comes the leaf crunch in which everyone gets to run and jump into the pile. Then the leaves head for compost.

Colón says volunteering is accessible for everyone who wants to participate, and different parks provide different volunteering opportunities. Henry Hudson Park has a paved walkway and benches, allowing people with assisted walking devices or people who need to sit more frequently the opportunity to comfortably join the day’s work.

While she never asks for donations, Colón said people often donate because they want to participate but don’t have time.

Once included among Colón’s volunteers was a 10-year-old Eric Dinowitz, who, as a city councilman, has provided $3.5 million in funds to the Spuyten Duyvil Shorefront Park to fix the pond that overflowed into the parking lot and ran into the sewers.

Before the funding came through, Colón said Dinowitz asked her why the project had not yet been addressed, as it had been on the list of requests for 25 years. Because, she joked, that was long how it took for him to grow up from being her 10-year-old volunteer.

Colón said she wants to keep children and adults of all ages engaged in outdoor cleanup and play. The intergenerational contact is important to her, and getting to see people experience the outdoors, sometimes for the first time, never grows old.

“I love being able to steward my community, to contribute, to make it better, to meet the people that live in it,” Colón said.







Friends of Spuyten Duyvil Jodie Colón Park stewards Green spaces maintenance Community engagement Environmental stewardship Volunteering opportunities Henry Hudson Park Spuyten Duyvil Shorefront Park Outdoor cleanup