Explore New York City

Improve Your Environmental Consciousness in New York on Earth Day

There are many ways for New Yorkers to give back to the green and blue environments that we cherish

The pandemic has shown us the importance of our park system during periods of confinement. At a time when we couldn’t gather in groups, socially distancing in open spaces gave us joy and a modicum of freedom.

Celebrate Earth Day in New York City

This year marks the 51st celebration of Earth Day, and there are many opportunities to say thank you for the beautiful natural areas that are a fundamental part of New York City living.

The parks are the city's outdoor living room l Where Traveler
Outdoor life in the parks (©Meryl Pearlstein)

Here’s how you can get involved with conservation in New York City.

Open Your Eyes to Environmentalism

Originally shown at the Queens Museum, the important “Who Takes Care of New York” exhibit lives on virtually. Spend some time reviewing its contents to understand what it takes to care for our natural resources. You can research many opportunities here for involvement through what are termed “acts of care stewardship,” caring and advocating for the environment.

Family time in Central Park l Where Traveler
Central Park is for families (©Meryl Pearlstein)

On Earth Day, the American Museum of Natural History invites you to EarthFest, an all-day online celebration. Programming is designed for all ages with topics exploring climate science, conservation, the relationship between man and animal, and the impact of weather on the Earth.

Paint and Sip LIVE celebrates Earth Day with a special class combining environmentalism with the arts and featuring a live DJ. The party will honor the holiday while spotlighting the impact of composting as a way to reduce the devastating effects of climate change. Twenty percent of the event's proceeds will be donated to composting champion Earth Matter NY.

Paint and Sip LIVE event for Earth Day l Where Traveler
Paint and Sip LIVE (Courtesy Paint and Sip LIVE)

Ride a Bike

Take advantage of the city’s many bike lanes, bike paths and ride options to reduce your carbon footprint. NYC Bike Maps offers cycling information and free street, trail, park and greenway maps for exploring NYC’s extensive bike network.

Take a Hike or a Walk

Exercise your mind and your body with a walk in the park. Get some fresh air as you stroll and look at the birds and flowers that surround you. Spring is a joyous time when bulbs give birth to colorful blooms, buds on trees turn pink and white, and birds re-emerge with a beautiful song. Central Park has compiled a Virtual Guide to Spring to help plan your time. Or visit a less familiar area – New York City has 124 park s with natural areas.

Daffodils near the Reservoir in Central Park l Where Traveler
Daffodils near the Reservoir in Central Park (©Meryl Pearlstein)

If seeing all the beautiful tulips and daffodils has you smiling, make a tax-deductible donation to the Central Park Conservancy and they’ll plant more in your honor. You’ll get a certificate or ecard noting your important gift.

Get Your Hands Dirty

The non-profit Natural Areas Conservancy team restores and champions 20,000 acres of NYC’s forests and wetlands for the benefit of all. You can make environmental stewardship a part of your life by signing up for their informative newsletter. If hiking is your thing, a great way to give back to the city is by joining the Trail Maintainer Program. You’ll help with cleaning and positive planting to make the trails accessible to all.

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

Central Park, Prospect Park, Pelham Bay Park, Forest Park and more – these wouldn’t be what they are without the devotion and care of the New York City Parks Department. You can join their ranks as a volunteer to help with planting programs in all five boroughs. There are many choices – you can focus on the parks, on the shore adding beach grass to create dunes at Coney Island or reverse damage from Sandy in Staten Island, or on your neighborhood planting street trees. You can help with wetlands, marshlands and forests as well.

New York City's gorgeous trees l Where Traveler
Spring trees in New York City (©Meryl Pearlstein)

Budget cuts, increased use of the parks and the constantly encroaching effects of climate change make caring for what we have all the more important today. New projects are scheduled every week. For April and May, you’ll see opportunities to plant trees in Marine Park in Brooklyn, Cunningham and Idlewild parks in Queens, and Goodhue Park in Staten Island.

Visit One Tree Planted, an environmental charity that restores damaged ecosystems, for additional programs such as the partnership with Moxy NYC Times Square that plants trees in California to repair the destruction caused by wildfires. You can support OTP’s efforts by planting or gifting a tree during Earth Month throughout April.

Family time in Central Park l Where Traveler
The Great Lawn in Central Park l Where Traveler

Be Civic Minded

Take advantage of the many opportunities offered through the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), a non-profit group started by Bette Midler to transform open spaces in under-resourced communities. Your monetary and physical contributions are all needed to plant trees, renovate gardens, restore parks and add to the green spaces each neighborhood needs.

Part of the New York Parks Department programs, Green Thumb keeps the city’s community gardens vibrant with plantings and art. A perfect program for building your environmental awareness on Earth Day and giving back to the community, volunteering is needed year-round.

Street planting includes beautiful tulips l Where Traveler
Street plantings (©Meryl Pearlstein)

You don’t need to join a formal organization, though. You can assemble your own group of concerned, caring citizens and adopt a block, and then divvy up who takes care of what from mulching trees, to maintaining flowers, to picking up litter. There are many civic “brokers” that will help you create your own partnership for parks: this year’s early crocus plantings are living memorials to those lost through Covid-19, planted as much for their beauty as for their message of hope for the future.