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INWOOD HILL PARK Summer park-patrolling rangers know the forest's ends and outs



Published: Sat, July 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Manhattan's last remaining forest is home to trees as old as 280.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK -- Beneath a dense canopy of oaks and tulip trees, some more than 100 feet tall, the sun barely penetrates, the breeze is soft, and the temperature even on a blazing summer day is surprisingly cool.

"In the forest when I patrol, I sort of forget I'm in the city," said Yekaterina "Kate" Gluzberg. "All you can hear is the birds calling and the trees swinging overhead."

The "beat" that Gluzberg patrols as a New York City park ranger -- in a uniform complete with a peaked Smokey Bear hat -- is Inwood Hill Park on the northern tip of Manhattan, home to the island's last remaining swath of old-growth forest. The age of the living trees can only be guessed, but a 160-foot-tall tulip tree that died in 1938 was found to be 280 years old. With its steep slopes overlooking the Hudson River, the 196-acre park also is the site of an experimental program reintroducing bald eagles to New York City.

And all this is just a 10-minute walk from a crowded multiethnic neighborhood of brownstone apartment buildings, shops and restaurants.

Gluzberg, a newly minted Columbia University graduate from Brooklyn with a degree in environmental biology, is one of 60 young rangers hired for the summer to patrol the city's 28,000 acres of green space. They work with a year-round staff of rangers that fluctuates with the city budget and now numbers about 20.

Average work force

Local living costs are so high that the summer employees tend to be New Yorkers who live with their parents, said Matt Simmons, deputy director of the ranger program and a Queens native whose first exposure to natural science was as "a tag-along little brother in my older brother's Ranger Rick club."

For Gluzberg and the handful of other young rangers assigned to Inwood Hill Park, the job mainly involves interacting with neighborhood residents who use the picnic areas and ball fields at the park's entrance but may be unfamiliar with the park's wilder side.

On a recent day, she and ranger Louis Armistead enticed about a dozen children and adults to join them on a nature walk, showing them how to identify trees by their leaves and bark and sharing American Indian lore about the medicinal properties of certain plants.

They stopped by a stand of London plane trees, known by their mottled, peeling bark. A hybrid of the sycamore and the Asian plane tree, it is remarkably resistant to urban air pollution, Gluzberg said. The late Robert Moses, New York's legendary city-planning czar, fell in love with the tree on a trip to London and began introducing it to New York parks in the 1930s. Its leaf is now the Parks & amp; Recreation department logo, Gluzberg said, showing the children her uniform's shoulder patch.

Nature knowledge

A few steps farther on, Gluzberg grabbed a leaf from a bushy ailanthus tree, crushed it between her fingers and handed it to Adriana and Angelina Linsalato, 6-year-old twins, inviting them to smell it. The girls crinkled their noses.

"It's also called the stink tree," Gluzberg explained.

Warning the kids to keep their distance, Armistead pointed out a luxuriant, green-leafed vine twining its way high up the trunk of a tree: poison ivy. He noted the stems of a nearby plant -- the jewel weed, or "touch-me-not" -- provide a milky juice that can offer relief from the effects of the poison ivy toxin. The poison and its antidote were growing side by side.

"If you're lucky, like me, you're immune to poison ivy," Gluzberg said, "but it's better not to find out."

At the edge of the forest, a smooth boulder marks the spot where, according to legend, Dutch West India Company agent Peter Minuit struck one of history's most one-sided real estate deals, buying Manhattan from the Lenape tribe for the equivalent of $24 worth of beads, tools, kettles and cloth.




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