Q&A with Gina Pearce

Green Utica executive director on her organization’s mission to maintain and beautify Utica’s parks and natural environment

David L. Podos

Q: Many local residents might not be familiar with the name “Green Utica.” I believe the organization was under a different name at one time, is that true?

A: Yes, we did have a name change. But let me first give you some historical context. The organization has been in business since 2003. We had been known as the Central New York Conservancy for many years. That was our legal name. In 2023 we went through a rebranding exercise and formed a new name; as a result of the rebranding we changed the name to Green Utica.

Q: What kind of programs and services does Green Utica provide?

A: Sure, well first and foremost for many years our organization existed to preserve and maintain Utica’s Olmsted-designed parks, like F.T. Proctor Park. The Olmsted design firm was an architectural design firm which was hired by the Proctor family many years ago and funded through their generosity. The Proctor family knew that many residents of the city lived in conditions that did not include parks or open green spaces and they wanted the people of Utica to have the opportunity to go to a park, free of charge, and within walking distance. So, over the years we worked on projects to rebuild some of the historical infrastructure of the park such as staircases, bridges, landscaping etc.

Q: That’s pretty incredible. Are there any other parks that your organization maintains?

A: Yes. We also plant, maintain and water all the plants and flowers along the Memorial Parkway, which is a main thoroughfare which runs east-west through the city. The entire parkway encompasses five miles and 60 acres. We also maintain T.R. Proctor Park and Roscoe Conkling Park, which all are Olmsted-designed parks and many other parks throughout the city of Utica.

Q: What is the mission statement of Green Utica?

A: Our mission is to maintain and beautify Utica’s parks and natural environment.

Q: Why is it important to have green space in a city and what psychological health benefits as well as physical health benefits does it provide?

A: There are many benefits. I’ll start first with the beautification piece and the reason why we included that in our mission. We did that because we think that by taking steps to beautify the city, that will start a movement for residents to beautify their lawns. Of course, gardening takes physical work so the health benefits are many. You’re moving your body, bending and picking things up, working with your hands. The emotional benefits are many as well. Just being outside in the fresh air and sun is uplifting, you are breathing deeper and of course you see the results of your work, the beauty of the flowers and plants brings a feeling of accomplishment.

Q: I know when I am driving over the parkway and I catch a red light, I have a moment to look at the beautiful flowers that your organization has planted and the incredible array of colors. It actually brings a smile to my face; it lifts my spirits. Do you have people tell you that as well?

A: We do. We have a lot of people who express their appreciation for the work that we do on the parkway and how it makes them feel.

Q: It must take a fairly large labor force to do all of this. Who are the people that you use?

A: We use a combination of volunteers and independent contractors. Last year we had between 120 and 140 volunteers. In regards to contractors, that can vary. For instance, this year along with our volunteers, we will hire one independent contractor group.

Q: Where does your funding come from?

A: Many people may think that the job to maintain our park system should fall on the city itself. While Utica does a tremendous job and investment in our park system, parks, while a necessary fabric of a community, are also a burden in regards to labor and resources. This is not only true here in Utica, but for cities throughout the country. We are an adjunct to that work. That said, for years we existed primarily through private donations. So, we do a number of appeals throughout the year to donors and potential donors. We also have some grant funding that has helped us with projects. For example, last year we planted 63 trees through a DEC grant. The city of Utica purchases the annuals that we plant along the parkway which is a big help.

Q: If someone wanted to know more about your services and any upcoming events, where can they find this information?

A: They can go onto our website which is greenutica.org. There they can find out what upcoming events we are planning, information on volunteer opportunities, as well as how to support us financially. Our number is 315-794-4792.