In Our Own Backyard – Part 2

Last Saturday, just before the nor’easter took a turn for the worse, snapping trees and making shingles fly off roofs, Grace and I paid a visit to one of our favorite places: Beczak Environmental Education Center (www.beczak.org). Located on a semi-industrial street along the Yonkers waterfront, Beczak is an environmental education facility with a focus on the ecosystems that make up the Hudson River and its shoreline. With weekday school programs and weekend family activities, Beczak’s enthusiastic staff wants everyone to “learn to love your river”.

Beczak was founded in 1989, but only opened its own interpretive center at 35 Alexander Street in 2004. (Grace and I attended the ribbon cutting, inaugurating our own Beczak experience.) When we first started attending weekend programs about three years ago, we were delighted to find inexpensive ($5 a session) eco-art activities that were perfect for a child who loves art and nature. Even in winter, the activities often involved a walk across the lawn to the edge of the river, where the children would comb the sandy beach for materials to use in their art projects. Sticks, rocks, feathers, “devil’s heads” and sea glass were glued or tied to make shadow boxes, mobiles and collages to take home.

Beczak today is more active than ever. Programs that once drew a few families now sell out. The weekend Young Explorers program always starts with a lesson about Hudson River basics (picture Dorene Sukup, an enthusiastic young instructor, reaching her arms high as if pointing north to fresh water, then reaching “south” to salt water and then rapidly rolling her arms to show how fresh water and salt water become brackish. Fresh. Salt. Brackish!) Thanks to a grant from Con Edison, the River Explorer programs are free for the time-being, but even at $5, they’re a great way to spend a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon. River Explorers is suitable for kids aged 5 to 12. For the younger set, Beczak has started Fish Tales for 3-5 year olds. There’s also Rivertalks, a Saturday evening lecture series; and Urban H2O, a concert series.

Really, there’s too much going on for me to describe in one posting. Last weekend, Grace and I enjoyed a performance by Irish Step Dancers, and this weekend we’re bringing a friend from Boston to the Urban H2O concert. So, check it out yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Footnote: A couple weeks ago, after enjoying a delicious pancake brunch at Greenberg Nature Center, Grace and I tramped through the woods, snow crunching under our feet. We had fun climbing some very big rocks and as we turned back to the trail, we saw, nestled amid the dead wet leaves, an extraordinary plant. It was burgundy colored, with two sections curling outward like ram’s horns and rubbery to the touch. Back at the Manor House, we ran into Anne Jaffe-Holmes, who told us that the plant is Skunk Cabbage, one of the first plants of spring. And we were the first to report a sighting! Oh, the joys of late winter tramping in the woods!

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