By LIZ BUTTON
More than one year after Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast in October 2012, volunteers from the community gathered at the Rye Nature Center on Saturday, Jan. 18, to continue storm damage clean up as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.
The group of 15 volunteers, led by the center’s Director of Conservation and Land Stewardship Taro Ietaka, sawed-off and removed branches and cut invasive vines and trees along the center’s trail that meanders through the 47-acre forest surrounding the non-profit education center on Boston Post Road.
The website for the MLK Day of Service explains the federal holiday is an opportunity for Americans to honor Dr. King’s legacy through service.
MLK Day, established by the federal government in 1983, fell on Jan. 20 this year; Congress designated the day a “day of service” in 1994.
Volunteer Center of United Way Community Outreach Coordinator Katie Pfeifer said the Nature Center’s program is part of a larger day of service for this region of the country. Pfeifer said the branch of United Way conducted more than 300 different community service projects for the day, most of them based in the Westchester area.
“We’ve worked with United Way for a long time. They’ll approach us if they have a project that involves the outdoors. They told us about the MLK Day of Service and asked if we would be interested in hosting an event,” Ietaka said.
Ietaka said Sandy clean-up is still going on more than a year later because there are a lot of fallen trees left from the storm.
“Basically, we’re clearing some of the debris and making brush piles,” Ietaka said. He joined the naure center in January 2013 so was not yet working there during the storm.
Ietaka called the pervasiveness of the forest damage caused by the storm “extreme.”
“It was kind of shocking,” he said. “Some of the largest trees we have in the park—white oaks that are easily over 100 years old—had been blown over,” he said. “The storm uprooted probably half dozen trees, and the salt spray turned all the white pine trees’ needles yellow.”
The trails on the preserve were closed for about a month after the 2012 storm while the Rye City DPW did its initial rounds to clear hazardous and obstructive tree limbs that were blocking the center’s hiking trail.
But now, “we’re getting to the point where we need help on some of the smaller projects,” Ietaka said. On Saturday, MLK Day volunteers were assigned such low-impact tasks.
There are many opportunities for volunteers from the community to do trail work in the future, he said.
“We’re trying to turn that around and make the trails more appealing to hikers,” Ietaka said.
Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. It was created as a way to transform Dr. King’s teachings of justice, equality and non-violence during the civil rights movement into community action to help solve social problems.
Volunteer Center of United Way is a partner in the annual day of service for MLK Day, and this is the fourth year the organization has put out a call for projects for non-profits like Friends of the Rye Nature Center, Pfeifer said.