Written by Dave Gil de Rubio, Dgilderubio@antonnews.com Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00
On Saturday, Jan. 12, the Tanner Pond Environmental Center/Garden City Bird Sanctuary commemorated its Fifth Annual Winterfest.
A self-created holiday meant to retell the story of the bird sanctuary and honor those who have donated trees in honor of someone else and those whom they were planted for, this event also represents hope and renewal in the dead of winter.
Symbolism was rampant, as roughly 20 people formed a circle around a fir strewn with gold garland and dedicated to the memory of Curt Hoera. With a nip in the air and the overcast sky giving way to dusk, a solitary cardinal chirped as John Cronin, the current president of the board of trustees, handed out candles that were to be lit as the ceremony proceeded. In doing so, he also explained the inspiration for this annual event.“[Rob] took this space that was basically a storm water basin/garbage dump and did a tremendous thing with it,” said Cronin. “I thought that in honor of what Rob has done and what he represents, this would be a way that each year we could tell how the traits he possesses make this a better place.”
The man he was referring to was longtime Garden City resident Rob Alvey, a current geologist for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Manhattan office. An inventory that he did of the village’s green space back in 1992, when he was appointed to the Village of Garden City Environmental Board, eventually led to this storm water basin being officially proclaimed the Garden City Bird Sanctuary in 1996.
Since then, it has become environmental oasis smack dab in the middle of suburbia that has allowed birders to catch sight of species ranging from warblers and Scarlet Tanagers to Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Saw-whet Owls. It’s also home to one of the last remaining acres of the once-massive Hempstead Plains, a tract of land that at one time stretched from the Queens border all the way out to western Suffolk County.
Beyond its biological significance, this nine-acre piece of green space has served as an outdoor classroom and an area tailor-made for local Scout projects, with three Girls Scouts earning Girl Scout Gold Awards and 20 Boy Scouts attaining Eagle status dating back to 1995. Currently an educator in the Stewart Elementary School, Cronin has been involved with the bird sanctuary since August 2000, when he took a position on the board of directors. As a teacher, he took his science classes on trips to this site and in the process, saw the important educational benefits that come from having such a unique place in the village.
“It’s important because [young people] get to see the importance of environmental conservation, preserving green space for tomorrow,” he explained. “This used to literally be a dump, so if they get to see a place like this, they get to see what nature has to offer. How beautiful it is and why we need to conserve it for the future.”
Being a non-profit means that volunteers are the engine that keep the bird sanctuary going from its March opening all the way through to when it closes on Thanksgiving. And while the damage was minimal from Hurricane Sandy, much of the clean-up couldn’t have been done without the efforts of people willing to put a few hours and some sweat equity into this project. It’s something Alvey admits is crucial to the sanctuary’s survival. Especially when roughly $11 is spent for every $10 the site receives in donations and grants.
“The biggest asset we have, which is hard to put a dollar figure on, is the literally hundreds of people that volunteer, work out there and donate their time. That’s where it really makes the difference,” he said. “The money doesn’t sound like that much. We’ve gotten $150,000 in donated labor services and I have two grants from New York State that I have had to document each hour of service committed and credited at seven dollars an hour. And it does add up.”