Inspired by mild, sunny days and the last golden foliage of fall, Grace and I have gone trekking twice this month. Trekking seems the right word to encompass both a gentle walk through the woods and a longer, more strenuous hike that involved climbing hills and rocks and fording (an admittedly small) stream. Much as Grace loves playing soccer, and I enjoy watching her games, it’s been a relief to reclaim our weekends before the snow falls…again. Every weekend that’s not rainy feels like a gift at this time of year, an offering just begging to be taken.
The winter woods, draped in snow, have their own pleasures. But, it’s harder then to get motivated, to brave the cold and wet and the slippery trails, to get out of the house early to avoid the quickly darkening skies at the other end of the day. In Harriman State Park, in late fall, the brittle brown leaves flatten underfoot with a pleasing crunch, the trees are stripped bare, opening the woods in all directions, and a lone woodpecker raps high and far away in quick, hard bursts of sound.
At Marshland Conservancy in Rye, wild turkeys, having escaped the fate of their domesticated meal-bound brethren, cross the parking lot. The trail is flat and mostly even, though muddy in spots, and leads through the woods, alongside a tall-grass meadow and across marshy flats, where you begin to smell the sea in the brine-scented air. The trail ends at the beach—Long Island Sound—where, no matter the season, children entertain themselves by throwing sticks in the water, skipping stones and climbing rocks until the sun weakens and drops.
Back at Marshland Conservancy’s trailhead, the one room nature center is open and welcoming. There’s a naturalist on hand, a beautiful photo exhibit of the animals, birds and insects that inhabit the property, a three-dimensional map, horseshoe crab shells and most, importantly, bathrooms. But this may not be the case for long. So here comes the advocacy part.
According to our friends at Beczak Environmental Education Center and Sustainable Hastings, the proposed Westchester County budget calls for the closure of several county-funded nature centers, including Marshlands Conservancy, Lenoir Preserve, Cranberry Lake Preserve and three others.
In an e-mail message posted on the Westmoreland Sanctuary website, Michael Gabino, Director of the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, outlined the implications of these closures:
- All Westchester County nature centers will be shut down and in some cases the parks themselves will be closed and gated.
- There will be no rehiring in the foreseeable future for these parks…without staff on site to maintain the nature centers and the acreage of the parks, decades of progress has the potential to deteriorate in short order. Storms and careless visitors will erode the trails. Buildings will fall into disrepair.
- There will be no educational programs, no interpretive experts at the parks, no summer ecology programs.
Personally, I can’t imagine not being able to walk the trails at Marshland Conservancy with my daughter. I can’t imagine the good that will come from denying Westchester residents, especially children, a trek in the woods, a glimpse of a turkey, the chance to learn about ecosystems and rocks and fish and tidal pools. In these days of holiday shopping and multi-plex movies, perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves and our children is the gift of going outdoors, where it’s silent and free.
So, I urge you to write to your county legislators a.s.a.p. According to Gambino, a final vote is expected by the end of December, if not sooner. For contact information, visit http://westchesterlegislators.com/contact-us.html
On behalf of trekker everywhere, thank you for your action and concern.