The Parks Department’s annual Mulchfest, a holiday tradition of recycling Christmas trees, wrapped up on Jan. 6 and 7 with “Chipping Weekend.”
The event was the last chance for Brooklynites to drop off their holiday trees at 22 sites throughout the borough, including Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Prospect Park was also host to one of the chipping sites, where people experienced the breakdown of their trees in action. There, they were also able to collect chippings for their garden and take home a sachet filled with their very own mulch.
On Saturday, the entrance to Brooklyn’s second-biggest green space on Third Street and Prospect Park West in Park Slope was buzzing with people dropping off yule trees. Meanwhile, Parks employees fed the evergreens into a wood-chipping machine with the help of a slew of volunteers who kept the supply from the large fir pile flowing.
Carroll Gardens resident John Ochoa said he visits Prospect Park regularly with his dog to “escape the busy life of New York” and signed up as a volunteer for the event through the Prospect Park Alliance.
“I came out here because it’s a great way to be outdoors while doing something beneficial for the park and also getting a little bit of exercise,” Ochoa said. “As you can see, there’s a little manual physical labor, so it checks all three boxes for me.”
Former Brooklynite Andrew Burgie now lives in Queens and enjoyed spending time on his old turf. Burgie was part of the Yale Alumni Association’s group, helping with the event.
“I’ve been organizing the group that’s been coming here since 2009,” Burgie said. “Mulchfest is one of my favorite events because everyone gets together. It’s been a great tradition and it’s a great opportunity to have mulch to bring back home.”
The event was organized by the Prospect Park Alliance and the city Parks Department, with support from the Park Slope Civic Council (PSCC), which provided hot chocolate, snacks, and about 60 volunteers.
Timothy Gilles, president of PSCC, shared that the civic council came up with the idea of mulching holiday trees in the early 80s because thousands of trees end up in landfills each year. He also noted that Prospect Park was the birthplace of Mulchfest.
“[PSCC] came up with the idea of recycling the trees by turning them into mulch with a big chipper, and then either using them in the park to keep the forests healthy and the plants and the trees healthy,” Gilles said, “or that individual people could pick up mulch for their gardens or for their tree pits.”
Gilles said the event was a joint effort between the PSCC, the Alliance, Parks, and the Department of Sanitation.
“We’ve been working with the Parks Department for 40 years on this event,” Gilles said. “We provide a lot of volunteers; the Parks Department and the Prospect Park Alliance provide the equipment and the professionals. We also rent a truck, go around the neighborhood, and pick up trees, as does the sanitation department.”
Mark Focht, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of New York City Parks, was “pleased” to see the mountain of trees ready to be turned into mulch, which will be used in parks around the city to deter weeds and provide nutrients for the soil.
“Within the first half an hour of mulching, we’ve already mulched close to 600 trees,” Focht said. “So it’s great to see everyone bringing their trees down.”
Last year, the Parks Department mulched over 58,000 trees — a record Focht hoped they would break this year.
“Every year, the number keeps growing and growing and growing,” Focht said. “So we’re hoping to break the 60,000 tree mark this year.”
Eric Stoller from Windsor Terrace was filling up bags with mulch for his garden with the help of his son.
“It’s good for the soil. It prevents the soil from getting compacted. The water drains down to the root easier,” Stoller explained. “[Mulch] keeps [the soil] warmer during frost. When it breaks down and decomposes, it provides nutrients for plants.”
PSCC member Rory Dineen shared that Mulchfest was his favorite event of the year because it brings people together.
Pointing at the kids, collecting mulch, Dineen said, “There’s an answer right there: All the kids. They just have so much fun. Look at their faces, joy.”