Udalls Cove reveals secrets during park waste cleanup

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"It was absolutely filthy. It was filthier this year than we've seen in years," said Committee President Walter Mugdan, referring to the cove's shore that stretches between Douglaston and Little Neck.

Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, several youth groups, and high school conservation clubs volunteered all day Saturday, fanning out to five different spots inside the 30-acre park, he said.

While working a hill just west of the Little Neck Railroad Station, 9-year-old Nick Saffran stumbled on a 10-foot-long metal street post buried in the dirt.

"It's not supposed to be here. It's one of those street sign things," Nick said, struggling to uproot the pole and paying no mind to the dirt soiling his Cub Scout uniform.

"Hey, Dad, I found this," he shouted as he lifted one end. A crew of parents and fellow Cub Scouts rushed to help him unearth the debris and carry it to a disposal site.

"It always amazes me what you find behind here," Dennis Saffran, Nick's father and pack leader, said afterward.

The Saffrans have been helping with the cleanups since Nick was a little boy. This year they came out with 10 scouts in Nick's Pack, 153, based at nearby St. Anastasia's Church.

Dozens of yards away a group of high school girls showed off a muddy sofa they found sunken in a nearby swamp.

"This is a couch we found two feet deep in the muck," said Faith Latella, 16.

"(Teenagers) go back there and they have parties, and they drink beer and then they leave stuff like this," said her friend, Elana Mugdan, 15.

The girls have been participating in the cleanups for years and in the past have found computer chairs, bowling balls, car seats, and metal rods.

Earlier Mayor Michael Bloomberg, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) stressed the importance of teaching young people to protect the environment. They spoke during a brief ceremony before the cleanup where Mugdan praised the councilman and mayor for their help protecting the park.

Bloomberg and Avella steered the allocation of $2.3 million in the fiscal year 2003-2004 budgets toward acquiring four acres of privately owned property inside the cove, Mugdan said. The city is in the process of condemning and acquiring the land, Mugdan said, after the owners of the parcel threatened to build an 18-house development in the middle of the park's ravine.

"It would have really destroyed the park. It would have destroyed the watershed," Mugdan said. "The creek running down the middle, it would have been stuck in a culvert. It would have destroyed the habitat."      

A variety of birds live in the cove, states the preservation committee's Web site,, including herons, egrets, ducks, swans and red-winged blackbirds. A stand was recently erected in the marsh for nesting ospreys, which are fish hawks with wing spans that can reach up to 6 feet.

The committee protects the habitat by sponsoring the annual cleanups as well as restoring Aurora Pond inside the cove and working to obtain the other four privately owned acres in the ravine, according to its Web site.

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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