Mid-Winter Hope Springs Anew

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Environmental center celebrates tenth annual Winterfest

Garden City Bird Sanctuary board member Ralph Healey (second from right) reads his part in the Great Telling as President John Cronin (far left) and Declan Hart (far right) look on. (Photos by Dave Gil de Rubio)

As has been the case for the prior nine years, the Garden City Bird Sanctuary (GCBS) was the site of the tenth event that’s known as Winterfest. Held on the second Saturday of every January around dusk, this year’s gathering consisted of about 15 volunteers stamping their feet to ward off the cold as GCBS President John Cronin distributed green candles and plastic cup holders for use in the day’s ceremony. The assembled gathered in a circle in front of a fir at the beginning of this half-hour event that started with Cronin explaining the genesis of Winterfest.

“We begin the Winterfest candle-lighting ceremony in near darkness and cold, with summer but a distant memory. We will tell the story of the Garden City Bird Sanctuary and the meaning of Winterfest,” he read.

Each person wound up getting their candles lit in turn as a way of symbolically passing on the hope of spring and new life that the green color represented. And while this annual event is a decade old, the Garden City Bird Sanctuary has continued to grow as an environmental oasis in the village. It’s quite an accomplishment given the fact that the area had its start as a storm water basin (which it continues to serve as) that founding member Rob Alvey inventoried as part of the municipality’s green space when he was asked to do this study by the Village of Garden City Environmental Board back in 1992. Four years later, it was proclaimed the Garden City Bird Sanctuary and ever since then, the nine-acre space has hosted environmental camps and been the site of numerous Eagle and Girl Scout projects.

Sunset at the Garden City Bird Sanctuary during 2018 Winterfest

The wonders visitors can encounter never cease. One of the last remaining acres of the once-massive Hempstead Plains, a tract of land that at one time stretched from the Queens border all the way out to Suffolk County, can be found within the confines of the environmental center. And birders have been fortunate enough to espy upwards of 90 bird species including a resident owl and red-tailed hawk along with warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, orioles, cardinals, kestrels and scarlet tanagers thanks to the fact that the GCBS lies along a migratory route.

Being a nonprofit means that volunteers are the engine that keeps the bird sanctuary going from its March opening all the way through to when it closes on Thanksgiving, especially when roughly $11 is spent for every $10 the site receives in donations and grants. To that end, Declan Hart, a Chaminade High School Spanish teacher and advisor for the Emmaus Volunteer group, attended this year’s event to accept the 2017 Volunteer of the Year award on behalf of the group along with a Citation for Volunteerism that was made possible by Assemblywoman Laura Schaefer. Currently, the next project the GCBS would like to target is a solar-powered well that Schaefer is working on getting funding for. Costs for monthly water usage can easily hit five figures and would be greatly reduced with the addition of this environmentally friendly addition.

Visit www.birdsanctuary.org for more information about the Garden City Bird Sanctuary.

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In addition to being editor of Garden City Life and Syosset-Jericho Tribune, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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