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Douglaston committee cleans up Udalls Cove

"When we get big high tides, all the sea debris washes up in Udalls Cove. I'm a sea kayaker, so I see all of it, the oil bottles from the outboard motors, plastic bags, car and boat parts," said Hope Wright, a lifelong Douglaston resident who was part of the clean-up effort.The 39-year-old cleanup undertaking began on the first official Earth Day in 1970 and has reclaimed a lot of clean ground and water since, said Walter Mugdan, the group's president."There were 17 wrecked cars in the water that year. You couldn't even go out to where you were today" along the Great Neck side of the bay, he said. "You see the stuff that washes up. The storm sewers wash out to the bay and it washes back."In the days before preserving wetlands and the environment became a part of the common dialogue, cars were only part of what one could find in Udalls Cove."People used to put sofas on top of their cars and throw them in the bay," said Douglaston resident Arthur Kelly, who has participated in the cleanups since the beginning.Some 80 volunteers gathered at 10 a.m. at Aurora Pond - named after the late environmentalist Aurora Gareiss, who began a campaign in the 1960s to preserve the wetlands and woods around the cove. Some people fanned out to clean up other areas along the cove, pick up debris and bag it to be carted away. The Douglaston Manor Association loaned the group its pickup truck to gather the bags of debris, which were then loaded into a Dumpster borrowed from the city Sanitation Department, which would come to dispose of it, Mugdan said.The weather forecast predicted rain, so the turnout was smaller than in previous years, Mugdan said, but the group kept busy until about noon as the sun shone and then was obscured by clouds."I remember this used to be a dirt road, and we used to have wild pheasants and peacocks. Aurora Pond used to be much bigger, and we would skate on it and play ice hockey," Wright said. She was standing on Sandhill Road, so named for its composition before it was paved with asphalt.Along the side of the road, several local children's projects studying Udalls Cove were displayed, including a mannequin made from trash found in the cove. Scout troops, children from St. Anastasia's School and local residents from toddlers to octogenarians all joined in to pick up trash.For some members of the group, the urge to beautify does not stop at the southern edge of Udalls Cove."I took the responsibility for cleaning both sides of Northern Boulevard, from Douglaston Parkway to the Cross Island Parkway, picking up plastic bags and trash, snipping brush," said Carol McHugh, another Douglaston resident who was at the cleanup. "It took me a year, but people would stop me and tell me if I ever needed help to let them know."Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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