A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Wave Hill Takes Mapping into the 21st Century

A GIS educator and adjunct lecturer, Amelia Zaino worked as a Garden and Gallery Intern at Wave Hill as a teenager. As an adult, she has been the Kerlin Education Intern and Youth Programs Coordinator. She loves the Bronx’s natural areas and is active in many organizations in the East Bronx.

Wave Hill’s Forest Project internship has always been a leader in ecological restoration here in New York City. The program is known for introducing high school students to the wonders of the Herbert and Hyonja Abrons Woodlands, but did you know that the Forest Project has been leading the way in ecological mapping for nearly 30 years?

In June 1990, Forest Project founder Susan Antenen developed a Forest Project Master Plan that divided the eight-acre woodlands into several management plots, categorized by their then-current vegetation. The master plan also proposed restoration strategies for the future. This important map has been stored on paper for many years.


I scanned the old map, divided it into pages, and assembled the pieces of the puzzle using photo imaging software. After the image was completed, I matched key points on the historic map to a current satellite image using the ArcGIS software. This was the final result:

aerial photo

Wave Hill staff and interns now have a digital way to learn about the history of the woodlands, as well as suggestions for their management for the future:


In addition to being excellent sources of information, digital maps allow us to track changes through both space and time. For example, Wave Hill’s Forest Project conducted a survey of non-native plants in 1990.

woodland map

I scanned the historic map and entered the non-native plants into the GIS database, creating a map that this year’s Forest Project interns could view in one quick, informative glance.

second aerial pic

As we live in an increasingly digital world, there are lots of great ways we can incorporate the knowledge of the past into the practices of the present. Digital mapping allows us to do this.


Mapping Modern Issues Using GIS

Under the leadership of mentor Dara Mendeloff, a GIS specialist from Columbia University, the three WERMs analyzed the potential for exposure to lead paint. Pictured here, left to right, are Dara Mendeloff with WERM interns Gloria Cadle and Roheyatou Ceesay.

the trio

The analysis was based on calculating the percentage of houses built prior to 1960 in New York City.

modern issues 1

They also calculated a hazard index for exposure to toxic airborne chemicals, a known environmental injustice across the city.

modern issues 2

It has been said that “geography is destiny.” Our WERMs are certainly learning that is true. Their awareness of environmental injustices can allow them to become leaders in their own communities to fight against such troubles.

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