The Last of Its Kind: Healing New York’s Wetlands

All photos © Ben Hider

In Northern Manhattan, nestled in Harlem River, lies Sherman Creek Park, a special place that has been transformed from a neglected illegal dump into a thriving community hub, beloved by the neighborhood.

New York Restoration Project (NYRP) believes that access to nature is a fundamental right. Founded in 1995 by award-winning actress and singer Bette Midler, NYRP has planted trees, renovated gardens, restored parks, and transformed open spaces for communities throughout New York City’s five boroughs. Creating community spaces requires a deep understanding of the diverse communities that make up New York City, including unique perspectives that promote inclusivity, synergy, and collaboration. Today, NYRP operates and cares for 52 community gardens throughout the city and 80 acres of city parkland, including one of the last remaining ecosystems of its kind in all of Manhattan.

For a small park, Sherman Creek has a very diverse landscape that includes a forest and a farm. Communities that use this area are underserved and do not have easy access to to green spaces. This area has become a refuge, an essential part of the fabric of NYC.

However, the park’s shoreline suffers from erosion, which has only intensified due to increased storm surge and sea-level rise—both driven by climate change. Erosion is a creeping problem, but one that can cause catastrophic damage to a park’s infrastructure.

Before © Ben Hider
After © Ben Hider

To help protect the park and enhance the natural wetland, NYRP designed the living shoreline. Living shorelines implement the most natural and lightest environmental footprint possible to achieve wetland restoration.

In the summer of 2020, New York Restoration Project installed the living shoreline at Sherman Creek Park, amidst the pandemic, to help save the natural wetland habitat from sea level rise. Its main components include an artificial oyster reef and wetland grass plantings. Most recently, NYRP installed ribbed mussels, another bivalve, to help further enhance the shoreline’s ecosystem.

The majority of New York’s shoreline and a lot of the interior of Manhattan was once filled with wetlands. Most wetlands are federally protected and recognized as valuable natural resources because so many have been lost due to climate change—an ongoing problem.

The benefits of a living shoreline include flood control, storm protection, sediment retention, nutrient cycling, water purification, and biodiversity. The goal of a living shoreline is to restore the ecological functionality of a marsh habitat on the shoreline—and it’s working. Already, restored marshes on the Harlem River sequester and store more carbon than some native marshes and even more than some trees in New York City. Since completing the reef installation, oysters have already arrived on their own, demonstrating the suitability of the habitat for local wetland organisms.

One of the most important parts of this project is that Sherman Creek Park remains a public park, allowing New Yorkers rare access to the waterfront.

“Cities are beginning to realize that we want different things from our shorelines. We don’t just want to drive along it, we want to be able to truly enjoy water activities like boating and fishing.”—Jason Smith, Director of Northern Manhattan Parks
© Ben Hider
© Ben Hider

Places like Sherman Creek Park are not just beneficial to humans—they’re also important habitats for birds and insects. It’s part of what makes such a beautiful connection with nature, from the pretty flowers to the serene greenery that surrounds you.

When you live in a city as bustling as New York, it’s easy to lose your connection with nature—it’s not a positive feeling. Parks are a respite, conveniently close to home. Part of what NYRP plans to do is get more done faster, while mitigating climate change and creating a better, greener, and more welcoming city.


For 25 years, NYRP has invested in and stewarded parks and gardens throughout the city’s five boroughs to strengthen communities, promote food sovereignty, and counter environmental and social injustice. Bette Midler has received many honors for her work and leadership in protecting and restoring New York City’s green spaces, including the 2002 Governor’s Award for Parks and Preservation. Her vision for the New York Restoration Project and its role in the greening of New York City continue to steer NYRP in both inspiration and execution at every level of the organization. Learn more at

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