The Forests and Wetlands of New York City

By Elizabeth Barlow. Forward by Rene Dubos. (Little, Brown, 1971)

Speaking of The Forests and Wetlands of New York City, Elizabeth Barlow Rogers says:

When I came to live in New York City in 1964, I did not feel like a temporarily expatriated Texan. I knew that I wished to become a New Yorker and make the city my permanent home. Writing my first book, The Forests and Wetlands of New York City, was a key factor in appropriating the city as my particular place in the world.

As a child growing up in Texas surrounded by nature, and as a recently graduated city planner with open-space preservation as my chief interest, obviously I was drawn to the city’s great parks. In addition to the nineteenth-century parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and the twentieth-century ones built by Robert Moses, there are those that are simply marked as public parkland, places of wild but often endangered beauty.

In the 1960s wetlands were considered ideal sites for garbage dumping by the Department of Sanitation. Dismayed, I joined a civic organization protesting this practice along with other kinds of park encroachment. I also began to spend my days in the New-York Historical Society where I read diaries of explorers and colonial settlers in which I found descriptions of the appearance of pre-urban New York. Continuing my visits to various parks, I began to interview some of the regulars who frequented them.

The fact that a city so intensely urban as New York has such an abundance of nature gave me the idea to write The Forests and Wetlands of New York City. I illustrated it with both historic images and photographs I took with my Roliflex camera. Since the word “wetland” seemed obscure at the time — the pre-dawn of the environmental movement — my Little, Brown editor encouraged me to title the book Nature in New York. I was happy to succeed in retaining my original title.