Tamara Beal, NYS parks Environmental Educator, giving a mini program about a garter snake

This year, New York State Parks celebrated its sixth annual “I Love my Parks Day” on May 5th, the first Saturday of May! In 2017, the event attracted over 8,000 volunteers to 250 projects throughout 125 parks across the state.

Saturday morning was met with the fresh smell of a well overdue Spring. Birds were singing and bees were buzzing. The weather could not have been nicer with blue skies and a sun to warm our skin. In Horseheads, NY, volunteers came out to the Cathrine Valley trailhead to help create a pollinator garden and clear brush and invasive plants to promote native species beneficial to birds.

From energetic toddlers, to a girl scout troop, to seasoned gardeners and everyone in-between, about 50 people showed up ready to do their part. Myself and two other NYS parks Environmental Educators and SCA Parks Corps members, Lizzy Hawk, and Kyle Gallaher, also stepped in as volunteers and got to do mini educational pieces on the fly.

Over 400 different species of bees call NY home. The role they play in pollinating plants is irreplaceable. It is estimated that 1 in every 3 bites of food deserves thanks in part to pollinators. In other words, if you like to eat, you have to like your pollinators! About 50 small pollinator plants were purchased by the Audubon Society to create a pollinator garden (Lizzie- Left, volunteers- Center). With so many helping hands, this seemingly large task was completed in no time. Holes were dug with shovels or towels, or even by hand and what started as a barren landscape was quickly transformed to a vibrant garden, ripe for pollinating (right).

Besides the pollinator garden, different parts of the birding trails were also attended to. Dead brush was raked, honey suckle was pulled, and sticks and branches were piled  high. The birding trails at the head of the Cathrine Valley Trail, on Huck Finn Road, are a well kept secret. A birding lover’s delight, these trails attract birds by providing an irresistible combination of shelter, food, and peaceful atmosphere. If you are able to walk quietly enough to become a part of nature, all sorts of creatures become noticeable on these trails. Volunteers were spread out in every direction creating a green space more attractive and enticing to our feathered friends.

In the last part of the event, some time was taken to appreciate and get up close with some of the wildlife in the area. Kyle, Lizzy, and I took about 30 of the volunteers on a short walk to a nearby turtle nesting ground. The sandy soil of these manmade nesting gardens allows the turtles to easily bury their eggs for safe keeping. In one of my earlier blogs I explained how SCA members helped to clean up these nesting areas just before nest laying season commenced (Right).

My highlight for the day, however, was when I found a first year baby garter snake by a tree we had just planted. This chance occurrence gave me the opportunity to have a mini program about snakes with some of the volunteers (introduction photo). I grew to appreciate snakes in my last job when I worked with a man, Josh Otten who had years of experience with snakes and any chance occurrence would become a teaching moment where we got to examine snakes great and small.

This event was just one of the number of events that were hosted this “I Love my Park Day” throughout the state. Thank you to the thousands of volunteers who came out on May 5th to support their local parks across the state! It is inspiring to see the number of people that show up for these kinds of home town events. Be on the lookout for my next blog coming soon about my work with scaling in the Finger Lakes State Parks!

NYS parks environmental educators and SCA parks corps members: myself, Lizzie, and Kyle

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