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On Friday May 3rd, Rolling Hills Middle School students and school administrators, City of Watsonville staff and officials, Watsonville Wetlands Watch, and neighbors celebrated the opening of the new trail and neighborhood greening project within Hazelwood Park, a neighborhood pocket park next to Rolling Hills school. Students and community members worked with the City of Watsonville and Watsonville Wetlands Watch to plant native plants, help to maintain the landscaping, and plant a ceremonial tree to commemorate the completion of the Hazelwood Park improvements.
The one acre park contains a stretch of trail that connects Herman Avenue to Melwood Court and is a popular path for Rolling Hills and Pajaro Valley High students. The restoration and improvement project included removal of a broken down trail and re-design and reconstruction of an improvement trail, native and drought tolerant trees and landscaping, removal of dead trees and an older landscaping, and installation of a stormwater filtration area. Rolling Hills middle school students have been instrumental in the planting efforts and are continuing to help maintain the park near their school.
Funding for the project comes from a $180,000 grant to the City of Watsonville and Watsonville Wetlands Watch from the California Natural Resources Agency’s Urban Greening Program and was supplemented by a grant from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protections Urban and Community Forestry Program to install trees on streets and parks throughout Watsonville. Funding from these programs comes from the State’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases through carbon sequestration and reducing vehicle miles traveled and enhance greenspaces to improve air and water quality.
The Hazelwood Park and Rolling Hills Connector Trail improvement project is a part of a City-wide effort to implement urban greening, bicycle and pedestrian trails improvements, and urban forest enhancement projects, identified in the City’s Urban Greening Plan, adopted by the City Council in 2012.
These types of projects support goals for both public and environmental health. Project benefits include improved safe bicycle and pedestrian routes to school, improved air and water quality associated with native tree planting efforts, atmospheric carbon capture, shading and cooling of neighborhoods, and an increase in the tree canopy cover for the City from its currently low 7.8% level, according to the City’s Urban Greening Plan.
Recent studies underscore additional public health benefits. Studies have shown that walking past newly planted urban lots lower study participant’s heart rates, that spending time in nature lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels, and that that cleaning up of vacant lots and planting plants and trees was associated with significant mental health benefits for nearby residents (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/opinion/more-trees-happier-people.html).