By Steve Mosco
In this city of concrete, there are still natural settings hidden just off the beaten — and paved — path.
One such setting goes about its organic and biological business while traffic whizzes by on busy Woodhaven Boulevard. As distracted drivers honk and curse on their way to work, an ecosystem of birds, insects and marine life exist around Strack Pond in Forest Park, a world away from humans’ modern worries.
The mission to seek out and explore those hidden spots is one taken on by the Green Girls, an intensive summer program operated by the City Parks Foundation, an independent, nonprofit offering park programs throughout the five boroughs.
But to the young women involved, Green Girls is more than a learning program — it is an adventure into a world rarely viewed by city dwellers. The group’s latest adventure had the girls with nets in the air, screaming in amusement while they tried to catch dragonflies for study at Strack Pond last week.
“This is so much fun,” said Emonie Faulkner, an 11-year-old from Jamaica who also goes by the name Peanut. “I love being out here and feeling that I’m a part of something. I was scared of dragonflies at first, but now I love them. I didn’t know a place like this was in Queens.”
Peanut’s surprise and wonder at the pond’s existence is the most common reaction to city nature, according to program organizers. They said many of the girls who join the program have a narrow view of what the city is — they tend to only know the brick and mortar and rarely the grass and water.
“A lot of people possess an innate attraction to being in the natural world,” said Danielle Rolli, a Green Girls coordinator. “Once they are out here, they revert back to an instinctive enjoyment for being in nature.”
Rolli said beyond merely enjoying the outdoors, the program aims to instill a sense of stewardship and care for the earth in these girls at a young age. The three-week program educates as it entertains and promotes leadership skills while teaching about the city’s vast natural and cultural resources.
The curriculum addresses a variety of science subjects, including environmental education, ecology, biology, geology, zoology and botany while exposing the participants to career opportunities that are available in the sciences.
One girl who took her experience with the Green Girls seriously came back to start an internship with City Parks. Angelica Chery, 15, of Brooklyn, said the program opened her mind to new challenges and showed her the other side of a city she thought she knew.
“The Green Girls gave me the chance to experience nature and gave me access to places I didn’t know I had access to,” said Chery. “I learned that I am part of the environment. I want to help these girls realize that they can’t take the environment for granted.”
During the dragonfly free-for-all, a research ecologist was on hand to guide the girls and help them understand the deeper meaning of the day’s events.
“There is so much wildlife to see and we hope they grow an appreciation for what’s here and understand the human impact on nature,” said Susan Stanley, a research ecologist with the Natural Resources Group, a team of scientists that helps research and maintain the resources of the city’s parks.
As the frenzy subsided and activities winded down, one Green Girl could not shake a dragonfly friend that landed on her shoulder and refused to leave.
“Can I take him home?” asked Victoria Rodriguez, of Brooklyn. “I like him. I have mosquitoes at my home he could eat.”
For more information on City Parks Foundation and how to join the Green Girls, visit cityparksfoundation.org.
Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.