Thursday, Apr 19, 2012
A group of volunteers at Gateway National Recreation Area will receive an award from Region 2 of the Environmental Protection Agency for reviving a five-acre salt marsh in Queens from tons of driftwood, lumber and garbage left behind by the tides. About half of the bay-side salt marsh has been cleared out since the effort began in the fall of 2010.
The Environmental Quality Award honors community groups, individual citizens, businesses, not-for-profit groups and educators who have improved the quality of life for humans and wildlife alike. This year’s ceremony takes place at EPA’s offices in lower Manhattan on Friday, April 27. Winners of Region 2 Environmental Quality Awards from past years can be found online.
“Doing something as simple as removing garbage doesn’t just get rid of an eyesore,” Hess noted. “It’s actually bringing back the wildlife.”Piping plovers, osprey, sharpshinned hawks and egrets have recently been spotted in the area.
While several salt marsh areas still exist around Jamaica Bay in New York Harbor, this marsh on the edge of New York Harbor is the only one that remains on the Rockaway peninsula. Its inclusion as part of Gateway in 1972 saved the area from development, but without the attention of dedicated volunteers, the salt marsh had ceased to function. Now high tides flood the marsh with sea water, bringing in killifish for shorebirds to eat.
Hess had previously volunteered with Gateway biological technician Tony Luscombe to monitor Breezy Point’s piping plovers, a threatened bird species that builds its nests on sandy shores. When Luscombe took Hess to the moribund marsh and explained that the park lacked the resources to restore the marsh, Hess was inspired to take action.
Hess called Luscombe “our umbilical cord to the park. His logistical, technical, emotional and intellectual support optimized out project for success… If every volunteer had someone like Tony backing him up, the world would be full of volunteers.”
Beginning in October 2010, Hess organized weekly visits to the salt marsh. Sometimes he was alone or with his wife Irene. Soon a small group of regulars began to join him including Kim-Nora Moses, who now heads the effort. Groups of volunteers from corporations and civic groups came to the marsh to help out. These included the American Littoral Society, Bloomberg LLC and the Church of God. In April 2011, volunteers constructed an osprey nest platform in the marsh, which was made out of lumber and other materials salvaged from the marsh itself.
Last fall, Hess and his family returned to his native Oregon, shortly after the birth of their son. He is glad the project continues, thanks to volunteers like Moses. “I hope Rocky Point Marsh Makers will inspire other urbanites to seek out habitats in need,” he said. “These places are always closer than you think.”
To follow the ongoing efforts at the marsh by Rocky Point Marsh Makers, complete with photos and video, visit their blog at http://marshmakers.blogspot.com/ .