Not far from the city’s rising noise levels and illuminated skyline, the water moves slowly across the Bronx River and reflects the crimson, orange and ocher of surrounding canopies. Birds often stop by to greet human visitors and hikes often lead to new discoveries of life. Just a train ride away from the skyscrapers, fall foliage is about to hit its peak at Thain Family Forest, where New Yorkers are invited to attend Fall Forest Weekends and explore the largest remaining tract of old-growth forest in New York City.
“It’s really a spectacular place," said Jessica Schuler, 36, director of the Thain Family Forest at The New York Botanical Garden. "When the garden was establishing on its current site, the forest itself was noted as the single most precious natural possession of the city of New York.”
During the institution’s Fall Forest Weekends, (next scheduled for Nov. 10 and 11) visitors can participate in a range of activities, including live bird demonstrations and Shakespeare in the Forest. But more than anything, New Yorkers also get an opportunity to get rid of what Schuler describes as “plant blindness.”
“Plant blindness is this concept that most of us can’t identify plants, it’s just like a big, green screen out there for many,” she said. Schuler’s interest in horticulture stemmed from seeing her neighbor, aunt and father ardently practice vegetable gardening in her vicinity.
“I was also fortunate enough to have grandparents who had a home in the mountains, so I would visit them and explore different habitats and go hiking and just be in the outside,” she said. But it wasn’t until high school that Schuler discovered professional horticulture as a career option.
Now, having worked at the NYBG for 13 years, Schuler is one of the many restoration practitioners and Citizen Science volunteers who help educate the public about ecosystems and forest preservation, which can be greatly impacted by the city’s pollution.
According to Schuler, the Thain forest is an old growth forest, “which makes it an ecosystem that has evolved around the Ice Age, so 15,000 years ago,” she said. The forest consists of mixed patches with the oldest tree aged at 300 years among newly planted ones. The forest does not just preserve wild flora and fauna, but an immersive history of colonies that thrived in the area.
“We have our bridge trail that goes through the center of the Thain Family Forest and it is an old Lenape trail. We have evidence that they definitely went through and hunted there,” Schuler said.
If science, history and nature don’t excite you, Schuler reminds us “fall foliage is going on right now — we haven’t quite hit peak yet, but the colors have really popped out this week and it looks beautiful.” The forest that expands to about 50 acres is an untouched expanse of natural beauty that has never been clear-cut for any human endeavors.
“It’s really a special place for all New Yorkers, so everyone should know about it,” Schuler said.
If you go: Fall Forest Weekends are at The New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx, nybg.org