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High Line's volunteers help keep city green

Charles Davis, 17, of Chelsea, works to clear

Charles Davis, 17, of Chelsea, works to clear out brush from the raised park in Chelsea, Manhattan. (March 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Manhattan's popular High Line park of prairie grass and black-eyed Susans adorning the elevated railroad bed is Raquel Rosado's backyard, the place where she is a volunteer gardener.

Rosado, 19, lives at the nearby Fulton Houses on 17th Street, a public housing complex whose concrete surrounding can be confining, she said.

"It's calm here at the High Line -- so different from where I live," she said Wednesday while cutting the grass to make room for the springtime greenery and flowers already beginning to bloom.

"There's no craziness here," said Rosado, one of nine teenagers from the Fulton Houses and the Chelsea Houses who participate in an environmental science and horticultural program at the High Line.

"People from all over the world come here and it's right here in my backyard," she said, smiling as she put her cuttings in her garden basket. This is the second year she has been a volunteer.

"I never looked at trees or flowers before. Now I know why people love them," said Rosado, who is studying for her General Educational Development diploma and hopes to one day teach gardening to preschool children.

Emily Pinkowitz, 32, High Line manager of education, said the program "lays down the foundation for planting in an urban environment and teaches the teenagers about our ecosystem."

The program's goal is also to spark an interest in "green jobs," such as architectural landscaping and even farming, she said. Students also visit city farmers markets and rooftop gardens, as well as learn about community gardening.

Charles Davis, 17, of the Chelsea housing complex, said working at High Line gardens "makes me feel good no matter what the weather is. I feel like I am helping the environment."

Working alongside the students are neighborhood residents, including Jenny Kong, 26, of SoHo.

"I love the High Line. It's a good place to relax and it's peaceful," Kong said. "I come here in the mornings before going to the office. I get to feel the morning sun and feel refreshed."

High Line staff gardener Andi Pettis said about 35 people volunteer for the annual spring cutback program. "The grasses grow up between 2 to 6 feet high and the flowers are already beginning to bloom. We have to cut back the grass to make room for the park's wildflower and meadow plantings."

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