Audubon Explorers Program trains future conservation leaders

CRARYVILLE–“There’s nothing out there that’s going to get you,” said Larry Federman to Saran Keira from Guinea West Africa and Carla Pierre Louis from Haiti. He was instructing the two interns, high school students from Brooklyn, in the fine art of paddling a kayak in preparation for a week’s camping with fellow high school students scheduled to arrive shortly for a four-day Explorers’ program at Rheinstrom Hill Audobon Center and Sanctuary.

At first the interns were worried about what might be in the water, but soon Mr. Federman had them maneuvering with confidence enjoying the experience of being afloat on a sunny with just enough breeze blowing to keep us cool.

We were paddling in the Ramshorn Conservancy Area in Greene County just south of Catskill within the viewshed of Olana. It’s the largest wetland abutting the Hudson River. A tiger swallow darted over our heads. Tall grasses and downed branches lined the meandering creek.

As we advanced, Mr. Federman pointed out indigenous trees Tupelo, swamp white oak, and northern white cedar, some of which have been identified by scientists who took core samples as being 400 years old. As we arrive at the point where the creek meets the Hudson River, we hover in the reedy shallows close to land and spot three eagles flying overhead.

The Audubon and Nature Conservancy Explorer’s program, now in its seventh summer, is designed to expose city kids to nature. This and other Audubon/Conservancy education programs are driven by the belief that a youthful experience of wildlife and the natural world will foster tomorrow’s conservation movement.

With the assistance of Mr. Federman, Mia Lefkowitz who is also from Brooklyn, sanctuary warden Dave Wheeler, and Ms. Keira and Ms. Pierre Louis, the campers will find plenty to explore from their base camp of tents set up in a high meadow near two ponds at Rheinstrom Hill near Craryville. Surrounded by 1,037 acres of woods and an extensive network of trails, they’ll hone their observation skills on dragonflies, butterflies, turtles, frogs and local birds, with the possibility of seeing coyotes, bears, lynx, or bob cats, which live there but are more elusive. They’ll also go to Ramshorn for a paddle expedition.

The Explorers program grew out of a partnership with the Prospect Park Audubon Society, New York’s first urban Audubon project located in Brooklyn.

The Audubon Explorers program is the beneficiary of a grant from Toyota, part of a 5-year $20-million grant to the National Audubon Society for environmental programs called TogetherGreen, designated for education, nature centers and volunteer efforts. The corporation, since it built its first U.S. plant in the mid-1980’s, has offered grants to education programs, arts and environmental organizations and groups that encourage diversity.

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