Courtesy of Joseph Dwyer

On Monday morning, New Haveners gathered at Kimberly Field Park to celebrate the first tree planting of the 2024 tree planting season. This tree is the first of 1,000 trees the Urban Resources Initiative will plant in New Haven this year. 

“Trees are awesome,” said Mayor Justin Elicker at the celebration. “They are beautiful, they’re wonderful for the environment because they suck in carbon so we can help reduce the impacts of climate change, they shade our neighborhoods to keep our cities cooler [and] they provide habitat for the birds that we’re hearing right now. We need many, many more trees in our city.”

Thanks to a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service through the Inflation Reduction Act, the URI is going to be planting 1,000 trees per year for the next five years, up from the 500 it planted in 2023. URI has been planting trees for at least the last 20 years

In addition to the first tree planted in Kimberly Field Park, which is the largest park in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood, Colleen Murphy-Dunning — the director of URI — announced plans to plant a total of 30 trees in the park this week.

“Yale researchers have studied satellite images of New Haven and found that some of our neighborhoods, like Fair Haven and the Hill, can have surface temperatures that are 20 degrees hotter than other New Haven neighborhoods because they have less trees and less parkland,” Murphy-Dunning said.

The remaining 970 trees will be planted in the types of neighborhoods Murphy-Dunning referenced that have fewer trees and hotter temperatures due to climate change. 

Murphy-Dunning also announced that the URI is working with IRIS — Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services — which will help spread the word about the opportunity to have a tree planted for free in backyards, parks, schools and wherever residents want them.

“We only plant trees where people want them. We will plant for a resident, a school, a park [or] a business. Any institution who would like a free tree, we will plant it for you — if you promise to love and care for that tree by just watering it once a week,” Murphy-Dunning announced to the crowd. “So, we ask the public’s help in fighting climate change and growing our green workforce by requesting a tree from URI.”

In addition to the trees being planted, the city and URI, thanks to a $60,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, will also be making improvements to Kimberly Park. 

The other improvements to Kimberly Field will include upgrading the park trail, installing benches and trash cans, resurfacing the basketball court, improving the entrance between the school and park and planting other flowers and shrubs.

“For the last couple years, our community has poured its heart and soul into advocating for this park, a space that holds so much meaning for all of us. We all know Kimberly Field hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, and this is a story we see repeated across the city,” Crystal Fernández,  co-founder of Friends of Kimberly Park, said. “Neighborhoods most impacted by environmental injustice often lack access to quality parks. This project is a symbol of our collective power.”

Kimberly Field Park is located next to the Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School parking lot, which uses the park for student recreation.

Principal Jennifer Jenkins mentioned that many families and members of the community walk or ride their bikes in the school parking lot for exercise, so she was glad to see this park become something that can be a part of their daily lives. 

“It is beautiful to see [this project] finally come to fruition,” Jenkins said. “It is just like with trees: we always see the big end result, but we don’t always see how the roots are planted into the ground. So I must say the process of getting here is definitely much like these trees being planted today.”  

The Urban Resources Initiative began in Baltimore in 1989. 

Lily Belle Poling covers climate and the environment. Originally from Montgomery, Alabama, she is a first year in Branford College majoring in Global Affairs and English.