Previously only accessible from May through October, Governors Island is now open to the public 365 days a year. While details have not yet been released on what the Island will have to offer—aside from its majestic beauty—in the winter months, the first benefit of this year-round access has been the fall foliage, which peaked over the weekend.
It's estimated that Governors Island has somewhere around 3,500 trees (and 100 different species of tree). But Malcolm Gore, Senior Gardener at the Trust for Governors Island, told Gothamist that they are "currently undertaking an Island-wide tree inventory project" (courtesy of funding from the NYS DEC) so they can have a more accurate count and will be able to "manage our unique population of trees long-term."
Of the trees on the 172-acre island, it's the sumacs and sassafras trees on the South Island that will deliver the most vibrant autumnal pop of color.
"We have four different species of sumac here, and they all have such beautiful deep red and orange coloring at this time of year," Gore said. "They’re the ones that really make The Hills stand out and look amazing. On the North Island, the Maples, Oaks and Gingko trees put on a great show with a wide variety of shades."
But trees are beautiful every day of the year, and so is the thoughtful strategy regarding the landscape here. Gore said the Island's "expansive park space—including the Hills, Hammock Grove and Picnic Point—has resiliency and climate solutions literally planted into it."
New trees get introduced in the Fall and Spring, and Gore said they are "on track to plant at least 100 new trees a year for the next few years in order to create a diverse and resilient canopy to changing climate conditions; increase habitat for birds, butterflies, insects and pollinators; and enhance the visitor experience and enjoyment of the forest year-round." This includes more blooming trees in the Spring, and more colorful leaves in the Fall.
"Our tree wish list includes more oak trees, especially smaller ones like Dwarf Chinkapin Oak and Blackjack Oak that can thrive in our environment," Gore added. "We’d also love to reintroduce American chestnuts to the Island. Once plentiful both here and throughout the East Coast, they’re one of the reasons the Lenape named this place Paggank, or Nut Island."
The Island's collection of "more than 50 native and locally adapted species make up what’s known as a novel ecosystem," Gore explained. "[They] were all chosen for their hardiness, salt tolerance, root structure and ability to thrive in the harsh Harbor environment and a warming climate. The raised landscape of the park also serves to lift root zones of new trees and shrubs out of the flood zone, ensuring long-term survival of these trees and making sure New Yorkers will be able to enjoy these stunning fall colors for decades to come."
Stay tuned for more on what Governors Island will be offering during the cooler months.
Drone footage by Jake Dobkin and Alex Tween.