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Boro center offers ways for visitors to experience nature

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This year marks the 30th anniversary of the designation of the Alley Pond Environmental Center as a National Environmental Study Area by the National Park Service, an honor it continues to deserve with its excellent programs.

But it was not easy to get there.

Earth Day in 1970 was a national event which alerted Americans to the need to think about environmental problems and how they could be addressed. Early in the 1970s, a small group of elementary school teachers formed a committee to persuade education authorities that the environment should be a part of the curriculum. They were not successful at first, but they kept at it.

In 1976, what became the APEC in 1972 was assisted by the city Parks Department in finding a headquarters in a former furniture store on the parkland facing Northern Boulevard. By then, the founders, Hy and Joan Rosner, had retired to New Mexico, but kept in touch with the progress of the APEC. Their annual visits were cause for celebration and examination of accomplishments and plans.

Joan and Hy are gone now. They were honored at a “Thanks for the Memories” afternoon April 26. The Rosner Society has been established to accept annual gifts of $500 or more from individuals that offer special support for environmental education programs. The society recognizes the joy a child gets in discovering the natural world. I was honored to be asked to speak at the ceremony.

That joy is available to all, free of charge, seven days a week, except on major holidays. The nature trails are open from dawn to dusk. The programs are offered for all ages starting from 18 months, an astonishing variety which is detailed each quarter in the APEC’s publication, “Tidings.” The center’s hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sundays. It is closed on Sundays in July and August.

Last year, 55,000 adults and students visited the APEC, mostly from Queens, but many thousands came from Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Nassau and Suffolk counties. The APEC’s programs are so popular that there is a waiting list of more than 10,000 schoolchildren.

The APEC oversees 150 acres of wetlands, trails, streams and ponds. It uses the wetlands habitat and nature preserve as an urban learning center and environmental laboratory.

A visit to the APEC is exciting at any time, especially if you happen to be there when school children are present. The sense of wonder about nature is conveyed to them by excellent teachers, led by Education Director Dr. Aline Euler. Executive Director Irene V. Scheid oversees the many activities of the APEC, which include the Festival of Little Neck Bay on National Estuaries Day, Arbor Day, Earth Day, World Environment Day and the Arline Thomas Urban Bird Contest.

Take the opportunity to see the APEC’s collection of well−cared for live animals, walk the wetlands trails, visit the landmark Douglaston Estate Windmill, browse the gift shop and help yourself to interesting leaflets about nature. While you are there, make a donation. Every penny counts. Better yet, join the thousands of your neighbors who are members. The rewards are great.

The Alley Pond Environmental Center, at 228−06 Northern Blvd. in Douglaston, like the Queens Botanical Garden, is another jewel in the crown of Queens. To find out more about it, go to alleypond.com or call 718−229−4000.

Elaine and I have been members of the APEC for many years. I served short terms on the board twice and some 15 years ago was honored with the APEC’s Friends of the Environment Award. Every time I go there, it is a whole new experience. I think it will be for you, too.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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