flood protection and drainage parks and greenspace sustainability

1,000 cypress trees and flower meadows to take root along Lafitte Greenway

Wildflowers along the Greenway trail are expected to beautify the Greenway and support pollinators and wildlife habitat. (via Friends of Lafitte Greenway)

A major sustainable landscaping project has begun along the Lafitte Greenway. When the multi-year project is over, 1,000 cypress trees will shade the linear park while reducing stormwater runoff in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Site preparation began in March to remove overgrowth and invasive species in anticipation of the initial cypress trees and flower meadow plantings. Planting will start this month. 

The project, a public-private partnership called Greenway Grow!, also includes planting native flowers in the lowland areas. Sprout Nola will plant seeds during April in the Lafitte Greenway Great Lawn between North Galvez Street and North Claiborne Avenue. 

The flowers will not only provide color and interest for the walkers, cyclists and runners on the trail, they will reduce maintenance costs and encourage pollinators, according to project organizers. The flowers also absorb more water than grass because of their deeper root system, so they can aid flood protection. 

Last week, volunteers with Sprout Nola tarped the meadow to begin eradicating grass and weeds. Sprout will then conduct a controlled burn to put nitrogen and nutrients back into the soil. The area will be seeded with fast-growing flowers to outgrow weeds and unwanted plants. Those using the trail should see blooms this summer, according to Friends of Lafitte Greenway. 

The first 100 cypress trees will be planted in honor of Earth Day. Friends of Lafitte Greenway and SOUL (Sustaining Our Urban Landscape) are recruiting volunteers for a tree planting on April 21, the day before Earth Day. See here for more information or to volunteer. 

The native-tree project recognizes that the Greenway area, like much of New Orleans, was once a cypress swamp. The 1,000-tree cypress forest will be planted in the Lafitte Greenway’s bioswales, the Greenway’s alternative to concrete drainage systems.

The trees are expected to increase the effectiveness of this bioswale drainage system. A single mature bald cypress can absorb 880 gallons of water in a single day, according to the stormwater benefit calculator

The trees will be closely planted, about 10 feet apart. The design by local landscape architecture firm Spackman Mossop Michaels uses natural mulching and shading techniques. As the trees grow, their dropped nettles will self-mulch, reducing understory plant growth and invasive species establishment without the use of herbicides. 

“The design is so beautiful in its simplicity and order,” said Susannah Burley, executive director of SOUL, a nonprofit that is organizing the tree-planting initiative. “This project will ultimately alleviate a great deal of maintenance, and will serve as an example of how tree canopy is the simplest and most cost effective form of green infrastructure to install and maintain.” 

The first step in the landscape restoration project was clearing the overgrowth. (via Friends of Lafitte Greenway)

The Lafitte Greenway is the first large-scale public project in New Orleans to include significant green infrastructure, and its establishment and maintenance have have been a learning process. 

When the Greenway opened in 2015, the original planting and maintenance plan was never realized. Invasive weeds took over the bioswales, and significant overgrowth inhibited the bioswales’ ability to manage stormwater.

Community leaders, including the neighborhood residents in the  Lafitte Greenway Ambassadors, identified bioswale overgrowth as a significant safety concern for the Treme-Lafitte neighborhoods.

“The cypress forest and meadows plantings support the growth of our urban tree canopy, beautify the Greenway, respond to equitable community input, and align with natural ecology of this space to support care and maintenance,” said Sophie Harris Vorhoff, executive director of Friends of Lafitte Greenway, in a press release.

The Greenway Grow project is designed to re-establish clear sight lines for community residents. Once the cypress trees are established, they will also help cool the adjacent neighborhoods while providing shade for everyone using the Greenway for exercise, relaxation and recreation.

About 325,000 people annually walk, run or bike on the Greenway, a 2.6 mile linear park that connects the French Quarter to Bayou St. John and Mid-City.

The Greenway is part of the city’s realization of long-term green infrastructure. Once this project is complete, the Greenway’s non-turf landscape will be managed using a maintenance manual and plan currently being developed by city agencies for use citywide, as this and several other green infrastructure projects come online in the coming years. 

“It is important to include landscaping and beautification projects to our park services,” said Larry Barabino Jr., CEO of NORD, which manages the Greenway “I am excited to see the beginning of a great transformation for this area.”

The Greenway Grow landscape restoration project and fundraising campaign are led collaboratively by Friends of Lafitte Greenway, NORD, Parks & Parkways, SOUL Nola, Sprout Nola and Spackman Mossop Michaels. Funding comes from Coypu Foundation Trust established by John S. McIlhenny, One Tree Planted, Spackman Mossop Michaels and individual campaign contributors.

The partners are currently fundraising to plant the next 900 cypress trees beginning this fall and to support the continued establishment of the Greenway’s wildflower meadows. See here for more information or to contribute. 

(Friends of Lafitte Greenway)

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