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Trees Count! Volunteers

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The 2005-2006 census effort mobilized an unprecedented number of volunteers. Over 1,100 volunteers participated, logging 30,000 volunteer hours.

Recruitment. Parks cast a wide net to recruit census volunteers in all five boroughs. Most of the volunteers found the tree census through newspapers, the internet, word-of-mouth, and Parks-affiliated groups. The typical volunteer was female, aged 41-60, employed full time, with a college or advanced degree, and has lived in New York City for at least twenty years. *

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Training.All volunteers were required to attend one 3-hour indoor training session and had an option to attend an outdoor session as well. We offered 111 training classes in all five boroughs on evenings and weekends. Volunteers received a 123-page training manual, clipboard, data collection forms, diameter measuring tape, a zone map, and a Trees Count t-shirt (see example below).

Support. After the mandatory training session, volunteers received ongoing support and encouragement. Parks sent weekly email or snail mail updates. We established a dedicated email account and telephone number, along with a website where volunteers could download training information and participate in an on-line bulletin board (see example below) that received 521 postings. One volunteer posted the following observation: “Lots of people ask me what I am doing. I tell them I'm counting the trees, and they look at me very strangely and walk away quickly!" One volunteer, dubbed “Treewright”, helped to answer many of the questions posted by others. All volunteers who submitted data were automatically entered into monthly raffles offering free tickets and entry to events and gardens throughout the city. Parks feted volunteers at a series of thank you parties held in each borough.

Beyond Volunteers. While volunteers provided the core of the census workforce, Parks turned to its Americorps initiative (the Green Apple Corps), an urban forestry consulting group, and Parks own staff to complete the effort. Volunteers completed 42% of the census.

Did you know?

  • Volunteers contributed 30,000 hours of their own time to the census. At an hourly rate of $8, the value of their work would have been $240,000.
  • There was a 57% increase in volunteer participation from the 1995-1996 census, increasing from 700 to 1,100.
  • 85% of the census volunteers were new to the Parks Department.*
  • 95% of the volunteers said they would volunteer again.*
  • The volunteer contributing the most to the tree count recorded 4,891 sites.
  • The volunteer entering the most trees into the database logged 9,369 entries.

From Our Volunteers

"Good experience. I loved learning tree types and 'meeting' the trees in my zone. I would be pleased to know I contributed to the city investing in more trees."

"I am so happy I had the chance to do this. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about trees - better than going to school for botany!!"

"I really had a great time. I also encountered some amazing streets right next to each other. Some were monocultures and some had a wide variety of trees. The reaction from homeowners and pedestrians was also very positive and rewarding. With the very large diameter trees I asked pedestrians for help in measuring and it was always interesting to see New Yorkers offer assistance. Hope to be able to help in 10 years for the next one."