by Susan Hellauer
“Don’t go down there!” she yelled, sloshing up the narrow dirt road in a pair of man-size hip waders. Laura Denlinger and her five colleagues had pierced a nest of yellow jackets while attacking a waist deep trash pile at an old footbridge over Pascack Brook. Even the experienced beekeeper among them quickly fled the predatory wasps.
The college students working in the woods behind 2nd Hand Farm in Nanuet were part of the Rockland Conservation Service Corps summer internship program. For their 350-hour, 10 week commitment that started June 1, they were split into crews and partnered up with one of 10 government or private agencies in the county. They educated consumers, built hiking trails with hand tools, tested stream water, mapped invasive plants, found and removed waterway obstructions, hauled away truckloads of trash, and much more.
But can 10 weeks and 27 hardworking kids make a lasting difference in Rockland’s environment?
The Rockland Conservation and Service Corps
Perfectly calm despite the yellow jacket incident, RCSC Project Coordinator Kathy Galione rounded up her charges at 2nd Hand Farm, and sent them off to put finishing touches on a family trail they had created at United Hospice of Rockland. The internship program had only one more full day of work remaining, before a final project presentation and celebration at the County Legislative Chambers on Thursday, August 11.
Founded in 2000, the Rockland Conservation and Service Corps is a program of the Rockland County Youth Bureau and was, at first, underwritten by the public service organization Americorps. That funding, now gone, has been replaced by other sources, along with the full support of the county government, allowing the RCSC to grow and thrive, says coordinator Galione.
Many of the participants are environmental studies majors, seeking internships in their field. But Galione is just as excited about interns like accountant Justin Benkovic and physical therapy student Josh Tipa, who see environmental stewardship as an important part of everyone’s everyday life.
County-wide conservation projects
Every year, the RCSC and their 10 partner agencies come up with a variety of ways for the summer interns to earn their $2100 stipend. The Cornell Cooperative Extension trained Kimberlyn Burgos and Jake Greenberg, educating shoppers at the Nyack Farmers’ Market on the mystical art of composting.
The Rockland County Division of Environmental Resources hit the jackpot with six interns, who restored the Dutch Gardens at the County Courthouse, did county-wide stream assessment under the NYS DEC WAVE program, mapped invasive species for the NY State PRISM program, re-blazed all 18 miles of county park trails, and, for digging trenches to re-route a stream in Sean Hunter Ryan Memorial Park in Nyack, were hailed as heroes by flood-plagued neighbors.
Clear and clean streams
The Rockland County Drainage Agency, a branch of the Highway Department, is charged with inspecting and protecting the county’s 14 regulated streams. Executive Director Vincent Altieri said that the agency welcomed their four-intern crew, who walked all 80 miles of these waterways, looking for and removing obstructions that can cause flooding. They dealt with fallen trees, storm-deposited rocks and gravel, plain old nasty trash and a beaver dam (don’t worry: beavers safely relocated).
Small trees, rocks or other debris—especially in a wetland area—are better removed by hand without heavy equipment. The drainage agency crew did their part to mitigate residential flooding by clearing 53 stream blockages. But water in the basement is only part of the story.
Flooding, stormwater and pollution
Sewage is now the main cause of waterway pollution. Flood and stormwater incursion can overwhelm Orangetown’s wastewater system, spewing raw or partially treated sewage into the Hudson River. Stream control—and the work the RCSC interns did this summer to clean and free up waterways before the Autumn storm season—is the best way to prevent both the damage and the pollution caused by flooding.
Does the volunteer stream work stop when the summer interns leave? Many of your neighbors of all ages also volunteer their time to care for our waterways. The Sparkill Creek, a major and many-branched Hudson tributary in Orangetown, has its own year-round guardian angels. The Sparkill Watershed Creek Alliance welcome volunteers to do water sampling for Riverkeeper and the NYS DEC as well as keeping the stream clean and freely flowing. During two major cleanups each year, Sparkill’s Christ Episcopal Church and the St. Thomas Aquinas College sports teams pitch in to help, too. Keep Rockland Beautiful sponsors springtime waterway cleanups and other environmental projects throughout the year.
In addition to the summer intern program, the RCSC has year-round projects, many of them drainage-related, and they welcome youth age 17+ to sign up and volunteer for these opportunities
Heat wave or not, these guys came to clean the north side of Stag Hill along the road that goes down to Hillburn. Loads of garbage from decades of illegal dumping were extracted from the mountain.
Thank you for making a difference and for doing all you do.
Exemplary citizenship, the salt of the earth.
— The Ron family, Hillburn, NY
The intern crew at the Pascack Brook returned undaunted—this time in full beekeeping gear—and finished the job the yellow jackets had interrupted.
The waist-high garbage dam, including at least a dozen play balls from some upstream park, was all stuffed into 25 trash bags, and the brook could flow freely again . . . but the crew left wondering if more storms would carry more debris to block the brook at the crumbling bridge.
At the Rockland County Legislative Chambers on Thursday, the RCSC interns of summer 2016 were thanked and praised by County Executive Ed Day, NY State Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, County Legislature Chair Alden C. Wolfe, and the partner agencies lucky enough to have hosted them.
All their projects were well planned, well executed, and mattered. The waterway flood control work alone will do immense immediate good. But maybe the most enduring difference these volunteers make, every year, is right there in their mission: to grow our community’s value for environmental stewardship.
To find out about summer internships (age 17-25), to volunteer for year-round projects, or to join their mailing list, email the Rockland Conservation and Service Corps at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-708-7308.
RCSC Partner organizations: Palisades Interstate Parks Commission–Trailside Museums & Zoo; Rockland County Division of Environmental Resources; Palisades Mountain Bike Association; Rockland County Drainage Agency; Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland; Rockland County Solid Waste Management Authority; Town of Ramapo; Village of Haverstraw; Town of Clarkstown; Cropsey Community Farm
RCSC 2016 interns: Kevin Bedell, Justin Benkovic, Kymberlin Burgos, Kaitlynn Connington, Aislin Crispi, Laura Denlinger, Timothy Fjermestad, Shailen Girgenti, Jake Greenberg, Jenna Grossbarth, Alexander Hershman, Ariel Kallenbach, Amanda Kelly, Melissa McCarter, Camryn McGrath, Tim Munzer, Allyson Oostdyk, Samantha Reidy, Angela Roppolo, Mimi Schmidt, Bryan Scott, Joshua Tipa, Michelle Trojan, Niquira Velez, Gianni Villegas, Joseph Vogel, Lily Wincele. Project Coordinator: Kathy Galione. Outreach Coordinator: Eric Fuchs-Stengel.
Sustainable Saturday, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Green Meadow Waldorf School, Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.