The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation offers the opportunity for environmental volunteers to get to work! Stewardship Saturdays are a great way to come together with a community of people that care about the environment and want to give back to nature.
For example, this spring at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park along the Connetquot River on the southern shore of Long Island, volunteers guided by Parks employees kicked off the season by trimming the historic Rhododendron bushes that line the paths. Rhododendron bushes can grow as tall as small trees if they are not trimmed once a year, but thanks to volunteers, the trails were ready for summer.
The original bushes were planted by the Bayard family during the turn of the 20th century. Gilded Age financier and philanthropist William Bayard Cutting wanted people to “Think of us as a museum of trees, not a park.” The family donated the 691-acre estate in Great River to New York ” to provide an oasis of beauty and quiet for the pleasure, rest and refreshment of those who delight in outdoor beauty; and to bring about a greater appreciation and understanding of the value and importance of informal planting.”
The arboretum has many miles of trails to explore the grounds. Find a trail map by clicking HERE.
Our volunteers have a range of reasons for wanting to help on Stewardship Saturdays. They also come with different levels of knowledge about plant life, so people who are not experts can still contribute by learning from others.
One such volunteer, named Laura, said, “We volunteer as a family because we care about conservation and we are always looking for opportunities to give back to the community. George (also a volunteer) invited us to Stewardship Saturdays and we are glad to be here.”
Another volunteer, James, who was there with his wife Jeanette, said, “I am retired so I have a lot of time and like to keep busy. We are involved with Island Harvest, Long Island Cares and help with the flower garden at Planting Fields Arboretum in Nassau County. I volunteer about three days per week. I don’t know about the plants but I’m here to help with anything the park needs.”
Joe has a lot experience volunteering with New York State Parks with his family. He found out about Stewardship Saturdays through the State Parks’ web site: “We went to a meeting and it sounded like a great opportunity to give back to the community and get out into nature for a change. After the first time, we were hooked and we now show up for about 95 percent of Stewardship Saturdays. My family has been to around six different state parks so far and it’s fun. I have lived on Long Island for 45 years and had no idea that this beautiful park existed. When I was in college I worked for Habitat for Humanity and my job was to build houses for people in need. When there is an opportunity to get away from electronics, I jump on it. It’s easy to pick up your phone, but here at Bayard, we are giving back and having some downtime which is nice. I volunteer all year.”
According to research, Rhododendron, meaning “red tree,” refers to the red flowers and woody growth of some species, but Rhododendrons range from evergreen to deciduous and from low-growing ground covers to tall trees. Flowers may be scented or not and are usually tubular to funnel-shaped and occur in a wide range of colors—white, yellow, pink, scarlet, purple, and blue.
One Stewardship Saturday volunteers, Jenna, has some knowledge about the history and how to care for these plants “The Rhododendron plants are from the 1800s brought by boat from England. They started planting them when Frederick Law Olmsted designed the park. These specific ones grow very tall so we have to cut them back when they start to get too big and before they push buds, which helps with next year’s growth. You can cut them but they will grow right back and very fast.”
Two other volunteers contributed to the conversation. Josh said, “I have no knowledge of plants. I am here so that I can help to maintain the historic park which is important to people who live on Long Island”. And another man named Joe who was volunteering said “I love nature. I have my own garden at home. When you volunteer, it is a way to meet like-minded people.”
Everyone in the Long Island community is welcome to volunteer during Stewardship Saturdays! For more information, visit website: https://parks.ny.gov/environment/nature-centers/6/details.aspx or contact us at 631-581-1072.
All photos by Melissa Hunter, NYS Parks
Post by Sage Saperstein, State Parks Long Island Region