SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Congressman Richard Neal announced two major grants on Tuesday at Blunt Park.

According to the City of Springfield, Mayor Sarno, Congressman Neal, Executive Director of PBRM Patrick Sullivan, and City Forester, Alex Sherman announced a significant grant award of $6 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

This grant is part of $1 billion grants to help plant and maintain trees, combat extreme heat and climate change, and help improve natural access in cities, towns, and suburbs where 84 percent of Americans live, work, and recreate. 

Mayor Sarno states, “My administration is proud of our collaborative efforts, led by Parks Director Patrick Sullivan, to apply for and receive these major and significant grant awards.  I am grateful to Congressman Neal, who once a mayor always the heart of a mayor, for his continued leadership and advocacy on behalf of our Springfield.  Once again, Congressman Neal has delivered federal money to support our ever-expanding park enhancement initiatives.  This grant funding is in addition to the over $111 million my administration has invested into our neighborhood parks and trees.” 

“This $6 million for our forestry operations is the largest single contribution to our urban forest in our city’s history and will not only help our forest fire prevention aspects but also continue my administrations investment into our climate action and resilience plan.  The $3.1 million invested into Neal Park ($1.5 million from the LWCF, and $1.6 million from City Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)) will transform this beautiful community park into an oasis for our East Springfield, Pine Point and Indian Orchard Neighborhood with walking trails, inclusive playground equipment, athletic fields, site amenities and more,” said Mayor Sarno.

Springfield is one of the only 385 funded projects nationwide and this $6 million represents one of the largest awards to a single community. The funding is from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in the nation’s history.  

According to the USDA Forest Service, “Studies show that trees in communities are associated with improved physical and mental health, lower average temperatures during extreme heat, and increased food security, and create new economic opportunities.  This historic funding will help the Forest Service support projects that increase tree cover in disadvantaged communities, provide equitable access to the benefits of nature, and deliver tangible economic and ecological benefits to urban and Tribal communities across the country.”

“I am thrilled to join Mayor Sarno, Parks Director Patrick Sullivan, and City Forester Alex Sherman to announce $6 million from the USDA’s Forest Service to plant and maintain trees throughout the City of Springfield. This funding was included in the Inflation Reduction Act, much of which was written in the House Ways and Means Committee, marking the largest investment in our nation’s history to combat the climate crisis,” said Congressman Richard Neal. “I have taken great pride in improving and expanding green spaces throughout our city, making investments in tree planting campaigns a priority of mine going back to my time as a Springfield City Councilor. When I was Mayor of Springfield, the city was designated as a “Tree City USA” by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Investments like the one being announced today will play a critical role in combatting climate change and will be of great benefit to Springfield families for generations to come.”

Mayor Sarno states, “This $6 million for our forestry operations is the largest single contribution to our urban forest in our city’s history and will not only help our forest fire prevention aspects but also continue my administration’s investment into our climate action and resilience plan.  I am excited to see the impact that new tree plantings and improved tree maintenance will have on the quality of life for residents across Springfield.  Trees are a critical component of our neighborhoods and make Springfield, not just the ‘City of Homes’ but also the ‘City of Trees’, which is also why my administration fully supported the building of a dedicated forestry building named in honor of retired and longtime City Forester Edward Casey.  I want to thank Executive Director Pat Sullivan and current City Forester Alex Sherman for their successful grant application, as this was a nationwide grant, and for Springfield to be chosen is a reflection of the talent of our city team and their hard work in maintaining and caring for our urban trees.”

Patrick Sullivan said, “We are excited for this significant investment into Springfield’s tree resource.  Our many forested parks are an important gateway to nature for many residents.  The woodland management activities will improve overall public safety for park patrons and create new educational opportunities to learn about our natural world.  These activities are especially important in light of recent forest fires in Blunt Park and overall increased severe weather events. We look forward to announcing more specifics to the grant once all of the guidelines are released.”

Alex Sherman added, “The Springfield Forestry Division is proud to partner with the USDA Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program to implement the ‘Springfield Speaks for the Trees’ project.  This grant funding will address a wide range of issues related to urban forestry, environmental equity, and green jobs training.  I am particularly excited about the development of an updated Urban Forest Master Plan for the City of Springfield.  We will be looking for significant community input in order to create a plan from which all Springfield residents will benefit.” 

According to the City of Springfield, the funds will be used for:

  • Urban Canopy Restoration: The Springfield Forestry Division anticipates planting over 3,000 trees over the five-year grant period.  These trees will be planted along streets, in parks, as well as on private property. The planted trees will have a significant impact on Springfield’s tree canopy cover. The program will also include the development of “Neighborhood Nurseries” that will utilize vacant city-owned lots to grow trees to be planted in the neighborhoods. 
  • Urban Forest Management and Planning: Comprehensive Urban Forest Management and Woodland Management Plans will be developed with community support to guide the future of Springfield’s tree resources. These plans will address many issues including environmental equity, forest fire mitigation, and forest health and safety. Interpretative trail networks will be developed in selected forested parks to improve access to nature and encourage residents to learn about Springfield’s valuable natural resources. 
  • Urban Forest Health and Safety: Urban Forest health and safety is important to ensure a climate-resilient urban forest that will provide maximum benefits to Springfield’s residents.  Maintenance of our current tree canopy will be addressed through block-side pruning and risk tree removal. 
  • Green Jobs Workforce Training: The grant funding will support green job workforce training for eligible residents to gain marketable skills in tree planting, tree maintenance, and trail construction and maintenance. Also, up to four full-time positions will be added to the Forestry Division during the grant period to assist with the administration of the grant projects.

The city also received a $1.5 million grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to redevelop Neal Park on Page Boulevard in Indian Orchard. The city is the only city in Massachusetts that was chosen for this round of funding. Funding for this redevelopment is from a $1,500,000 grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $1,600,000 from Springfield.

City of Springfield

Neal Park will be an age-friendly inclusive community park and will offer city residents the following recreation and park opportunities:

  • Accessible walkways and trails
  • An inclusive playground
  • New swings and splash pad
  • Athletic fields
  • A basketball court
  • Site amenities
  • A picnic pavilion
  • Restrooms
  • Tree plantings
  • Landscaping

As a component of the grant, the redevelopment of Neal Park aims to help mitigate heat island effects for city residents and to incorporate climate-resilient design elements where it is appropriate.

The $3.1 million invested into Neal Park ($1.5 million from the LWCF, and $1.6 million from CDBG) will transform this beautiful community park into an oasis for our East Springfield, Pine Point and Indian Orchard Neighborhood with walking trails, inclusive playground equipment, athletic fields, site amenities and more,” said Mayor Sarno.      

Mayor Sarno continued, “Once again, I want to thank Congressman Neal for his efforts helping to secure this grant funding, as Springfield was the only community in Massachusetts to receive funding in this round.  My administration is grateful to the National Park Service and the Community Development Block Grant program for providing the funding for this project and the city is excited to begin renovations to Neal Park.  This project illustrates the importance of having a master plan ready so when grants do come available, we are ready to participate in the application process.  The improvements will be a welcome addition for our residents.  I’m especially pleased that Director Sullivan will also initiate plans for Phase 2 for this park project.  This park has served the city well over the years especially when Monsanto hosted their family picnics and league softball games and I am happy to see that this park will once again host activities and events for patrons to create many cherished memories.”

“I am a big fan of our city’s Parks Department and have lauded the work of its public servants for decades. We are fortunate to live in a city that takes great pride in its park system, and to have a piece of what has been an incredible 140-year history of the Springfield Parks Department named in your honor is immensely gratifying,” said Congressman Richard E. Neal. “I applaud Mayor Sarno and Parks Director Patrick Sullivan for continuing to invest in our city’s green spaces, investments that greatly improve the quality of life for the citizens of our community. Funding from the National Park Service’s Land & Water Conservation Fund will play a critical role in making much needed updates and improvements to ensure Neal Park can be enjoyed by all.”

Jennifer McQuade, Park Commission Chairwomen said, “This is great news for the patrons of Neal Park.  These improvements will include installation of a quality playground, picnic areas, a renovated baseball/softball field, restrooms, and a splash pad area. By local, state, federal government and the business community working together, we can make great things happen for our city. I would also like to extend a special thank you to Mayor Sarno who continues to find the funding to improve our renowned park system.”

“We are very excited for this project to move forward,” said Executive Director Sullivan. “We have worked with the residents of the East Springfield and Indian Orchard neighborhoods over the years in developing a master plan for this park.  We appreciate Congressman Neal’s efforts in restoring the allocation of Federal Land and Water Conservation funds.  These resources are a lifeline for urban park systems. The grant award is a tribute to everyone’s hard work and input in developing a comprehensive plan for this urban park.  We look forward to starting Phase One of the plan and will continue to search for future grant resources to complete the plans for a wetland walking trail.  Neal Park offers a terrific setting for recreational activities for all ages and is a key component in ensuring the quality of life for the residents of our city.”

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