Trip Report: Hour Children on Jamaica Bay

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After our paddling and nature walking, a final group shot. The kids felt triumphant that they’d learned so much and kayaked! Photo by Erik Baard.

On  August 22, HarborLAB took 15 kids from Hour Children, with their counselors, on an outing to the Jamaica Bay portion of the Gateway Wildlife Recreation Area. The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a fantastic resource for conservation education, and the site provides a model for wetlands restoration. The children saw osprey, all manner of shells, a burrowing wasp, rosehips in flower and fruit, goldenrod, tent caterpillars, saltwater marshes, and other sights that they’d never witnessed. HarborLAB volunteers loved the kids’ humor, mutual support, and unflagging curiosity.

We started at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge visitor and education center, with an orientation provided by National Park Rangers and a lengthy and fun nature walk. The kids were given clipboards and activity sheets, which they completed with seriousness and enthusiasm. These exercises enriched the later paddling, as the kids watched for the animals and plants they’d learned about earlier (a great chance to also discuss the need for nutrients (vitamin C in rosehips, for example) found in nature — real foods). They more deeply understood they were paddling in a natural system, not an oversized swimming pool. Some requested that we return when the diamondback terrapin turtles are laying eggs and when horseshoe crabs come to shore in early summer.

It was a bit windy, so instead of using all eight boats we trailered to the site, we used only two for the kids, plus on guide boat. The kids and staff shared boats staffed by HarborLAB volunteers in the stern. We stayed along the shorelines in an area that enjoyed wind and current shelter, thanks to the old seaplane ramp at Floyd Bennett Field, and remained in water shallow enough to stand (you can see bottom in photos and from the boats). The kids, however, still found it to be an amazing adventure.

HarborLAB now has a trailer, so we’re able to bring kids on field trips with partners who arrange for their transportation. HarborLAB, in consultation with experts in government and academia and in response to tests, has determined that water in western Queens isn’t suitable for children’s programs — Hallets Cove has a steadily high population of sewage bacteria according to tests by The River Project (part of a NYC Water Trail program), indicating an infrastructure problem; Anable Basin is the site of lingering industrial pollution from its former use as a barge slip for an oil refinery, paint factory, and other notorious toxic spillers that forced huge soil remediation efforts; Steinway Creek is similarly blighted by pollution; and the Newtown Creek is an EPA Superfund site with a pollution problem especially east of the Pulaski Bridge. We prefer Pelham Bay Park, which is swimmable at Orchard Beach, and Jamaica Bay, and parts of the Hudson River, Long Island and New Jersey.

Hour Children helps children who were born in prison or whose mothers are incarcerated or rebuilding their lives after incarceration and the errors that brought them into the prison system.

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Ranger Will teaches the kids about osprey nests and hunting methods. Photo by Erik Baard.

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An Hour Children staff person discovers the cutest grasslands critter. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Ranger Will lines the kids of for osprey nest viewings. We also saw them in flight as we walked the nature path. Photo by Erik Baard.

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The kids were given clipboards and assignments for observation, which they undertook with enthusiasm and keen insights. Here they are scanning the canopy. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Goldenrod, a staple of migrating monarch butterflies and also for moths. Photo by Erik Baard.

Goldenrod and rosehips in fruit and bloom.  and rosehip in fruit and bloom. We discussed how all the nutrients we need, like vitamin C, come from nature. It was a great chance to remind kids about the important of real foods. Photo by Erik Baard.

Goldenrod and rosehips in fruit and bloom. and rosehip in fruit and bloom. We discussed how all the nutrients we need, like vitamin C, come from nature. It was a great chance to remind kids about the important of real foods. Photo by Erik Baard.

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The synchronistically vibrating tent caterpillars were a hit with the kids. Maybe a nice preview of Halloween too? Photo by Erik Baard.

Burrowing wasp. The kids were fascinated. Photo by Erik Baard.

Burrowing wasp. The kids were fascinated. Photo by Erik Baard.

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At the far end of our nature walk. One girl took the binoculars and pointed back to the education and visitor center of the Wildlife Refuge and said, “I”m lookiing at my sandwich!” Hint taken. 🙂 Photo by Erik Baard.

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HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson paddles as perimeter keeper and safety escort while Erik Baard and EJ Lee bring the kids paddling in shallow water. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee with her seafaring friends. Photo by HarborLAB Board Member Lisa Belfast, After School and Summer Camp Program Manager for Hour Children.

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EJ Lee and Hour Children kids. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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HarborLAB Founder, Executive Director Erik Baard with Hour Children kids. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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Wesley Miller launches and lands the kayaks. Photo by Lisa Belfast.

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Frolicking in the sand. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Connecting with the water and sand. Photo by Erik Baard.

Great HarborLAB Launch Work Party!

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Boat launch property before most work hard begun. Photo by Wesley Miller.

HarborLAB volunteers cleaned up our 125′ x 21′ waterfront space and installed a boat launch so that in 2014 we can offer more frequent programming, host and assist student research projects, and bring robust community life and a richer ecosystem to the shore. We’re very grateful to Community Board 2 Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead for storing our boats for the summer in the yard behind her Sunnyside office, with our gear and materials in her basement.

Our space, which is at the end of Vernon Boulevard, is generously provided by Schuman Properties (family owned, along with Propper Manufacturing). We have great co-tenants, including the Circus Warehouse. The chief inspiration for the site revamp was our recent purchase of a boat trailer from Jersey Paddler. Other recent funds enabled us to budget for security cameras, locks and chains, sheds, and property improvements.

The property was unusable due to Hurricane Sandy debris and recovery period dumping, as well as loose pallets of bricks and dense and extensive weed growth. The crumbling bulkhead also left us with a steep and unstable gradient. The first reclamation work was done by Wesley Miller, who single-handedly weeded much of the tract, allowing a trailer to roll in while leaving weeds that held down soil on slopes. Wesley also restacked bricks that fell from pallets.

Then came HarborLAB’s work party! Our labor was fueled by amazing Italian food from Manducatis Rustica, which is further up Vernon Boulevard. We were glad to welcome three new volunteers, Dr. Minerva Ahumada (professor of philosophy at LaGuardia Community College — and boy do her students love her!), David Pugh (a Time’s Up! activist referred to us by HarborLAB board member Joel Kupferman, founder of the NY Environmental Law and Justice Project), and artist Becky Chipkin.

Schuman Properties kindly ordered a dumpster, which ten volunteers filled rapidly with all manner of junk. We also moved thousands of bricks by hand, assembly line style, to further open up space near the gate. We also installed a mailbox, began gate repairs, and installed a wooden boat launch. LIC-based artist and sailor Ilan Averbuch creates massive sculptures, so he’s offered to help move some pallets of bricks with his forklift.  HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson oversaw all work, while Mairo Notton particularly focused on our boat launch.

Our boat launch is inspired by Viking-style wooden ramps, which Rob Buchanan of the Village Community Boathouse also called a “dory ladder.” These are still in common use, for example in Newfoundland. In our case, to save time and some of HarborLAB’s budget, Founder Erik Baard donated his futon frame. Whatever works!

Future plans include salt-tolerant native species to hold the shoreline together, spartina marsh grass planting, a work platform for research, a dock, shipping containers for storage once the bricks are removed this winter, and much more! We’re also working to ensure our improvements are inclusive of the sailors already present, with stronger tie-ups, stairs and paths down (also sparing planted areas), and community building activities.

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Overgrown space with dumping, including heavy buckets with unknown contents. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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Some of the many bricks on the site that had to be moved and stacked. In total, there are perhaps 50,000 bricks. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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Now the work can begin with gusto — the dumpster arrives! Photo by Erik Baard.

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Volunteer Co-Manager Caroline Walker lassos the gate post to pull it upright, while Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson directs from below and sets the line.

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Sally Attia, Mairo Notton, and David Pugh install the boat ramp, which Mairo assembled out of Founder Erik Baard’s futon frame. David’s shirt also provides a great chance to salute pioneering urban environment group Time’s Up! Photo by Erik Baard.

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Mairo Notton tests the repelling aspect of his boat ramp masterpiece. Photo by Erik Baard.

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David Pugh and Becky Chipkin inaugurate the boat ramp, both launching and landing, while Sally Attia helps. . Photo by Erik Baard.

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David Pugh, Sally Attia, and Manny Steier organize the huge task of moving bricks out our working area. Patricia Erickson was the spur and inspiration that made us believe we could do it in a day. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Mairo Notton upped the ante in brick carrying, with 15 at a time. Sometimes 18, simply to show off. He also tested Erik Baard’s ability to do so — Erik passed, but this remained Mairo’s signature achievement. Photo by Erik Baard.

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More bricks, bricks, bricks. We did it in a continual human chain, with specialized stackers at either end. Here camera shy Dr. Minerva Ahumada, professor of philosophy at LaGuardia Community College, scoots out of frame while HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee enters. One wonders if the myth of Sisyphus prepared Minerva for this task. Photo by Erik Baard.

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We still had time for love. David Pugh, Becky Chipkin, a dumpster, a sign warning of the END, and the new World Trade Center rising over the Newtown Creek mouth. Photo by Erik Baard.

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In an unusual move, a seaplane used the Newtown Creek as a runway — toward Manhattan. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Making us more official, Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson and Mairo Notton install a mailbox by the gate. Photo by Erik Baard.

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As we feasted on Manducatis Rustica’s food, our North Brooklyn Boat Club neighbors across the Newtown Creek set off on an overnight Manhattan circumnavigation. We called out our well wishes for the canoeists, kayakers, and rowers. Photo by Erik Baard.

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In daylight we saw the full dumpster. Photo by Erik Baard.

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And off goes the site junk! Photo by Erik Baard.

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Canoes and trailer on site and secured. Kayaks to soon follow. Photo by Erik Baard.