By Rich Bockmann
For 35 years now, the Alley Pond Environmental Center has been teaching the principles of environmental stewardship to generations of nature lovers and is currently working to ensure it exists as a resource for generations to come.
Headquartered in an old furniture store surrounded by more than 600 acres of forest, meadows, ponds and marshes in Alley Pond Park, the center got its start in 1976 when Douglaston residents and educators Joan and Hy Rosner began leading school trips into the woodlands in the park’s southeastern section.
In the decades before the 1970s, the wetlands of Alley Pond were considered to be a wasteland and had become dumping grounds for debris from the construction of the Cross Island Parkway and the Long Island Expressway.
But in the earlier part of that decade, conservationists were beginning to understand the importance of wetlands as areas that serve important ecological functions.
APEC was established as a grassroots organization in 1972, and four years later it moved into its current location with the goal of expounding the values and the techniques of environmentalism.
“We have raised the environmental consciousness of children in the community,” said APEC Executive Director Irene Scheid. “Not just the community, but the borough, the city and Nassau County.”
The organization has grown to 1,000 members and a full-time staff of eight who operate the center at 228-06 Northern Blvd. seven days a week.
The building functions as a resource center to teach visitors about the plants and animals that call the area home.
More than 62,000 children — some as young as 18 months — and adults participate in the center’s programs, many of which are booked solid a year in advance.
“If children can learn that young, they grow up with it and don’t have to be taught as adults,” Scheid said.
With $9 million in funds from the City Council and the borough president, APEC is in the process of designing a new building to continue its work into the future.
Liz and Andrew McGlinchey’s parents would take them on nature hikes in the park when they were children, and they have been involved with APEC ever since.
“I have memories of being there on the trails just behind the center,” said Liz, who currently works as the registrar at the front desk. “I liked the animals and everything, but I was more into the nature trail and actually walking outside.”
Liz, 26, was originally hired as a birthday instructor, running parties where children could get up close and personal with the small snakes, lizards and birds inside the center’s classroom and participate in arts and crafts projects.
“I’ve worked with kids throughout my life. That’s what really attracted me to the program,” she said. “I like animals and everything, but I love kids.”
Meanwhile, Andrew is in Canada studying for his digestive physiology midterm at the Ontario Veterinary College.
“On my vet school applications and during my interview, I was able to refer to the beginnings of my educational and practical experiences at APEC, and I’m sure it contributed to my invitation into school,” he wrote in an e-mail during a quick study break.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.