April 28, 2008

Eagle Scout Project: Michael Romeo

Southold resident, Michael Romeo, is on his was to becoming an Eagle Scout. To attain the Eagle Rank " a Life Scout [must] plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, and school, or your community." Michael choose Peconic Dunes County Park as the site to perform his service project, replacing the sad remnants of the retaining wall outside the Nature Center with a beautiful new wall that is sure to stand for decades to come. Michael coordinated his fellow scouts from Southold Troop #6 with assistance from his father, Richard Romeo, and Roger Martin, CCE Education Specialist. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the Suffolk County Department of Parks & Recreation, and all the campers and community groups who benefit from Peconic Dunes wish to offer Michael and his team a big THANKS!

Now, for some photos documenting the destruction of the old and the construction of the new...


The materials for the new wall.

Demolishing the old "wall".

No more wall.

Getting rid of the debris.

Look what Roger found.

The boys planning their next step.

Perfect timing...the reinforcements!

Michael explaining to the troop how the wall's foundation will be laid.

The Troop #6 boys get right to work.

Michael and his dad laying the foundation of the wall.

The boys tamp down the foundation so the rest of the wall will be solid.

Michael driving in 1 of the over 400 12-inch nails needed to hold the wall together.

Michael taking a higher vantage point to inspect his team's progress.

The boys taking a well deserved lunch break. Oatmeal raisin cookies courtesy of Michael's mom. (They were pretty awesome.)

Roger and Michael planning how they'll work around the terrain and negotiate the necessary angles in the wall.

The pieces of wood turned into the dune help anchor the wall.

Finishing the trench on the other side of the wall.

The end of Day #1.

After everyone rested on Sunday from a full day of work on Saturday, the crew showed up ready to go Monday morning, quickly building upon where they had left off.

The black fabric is a semi-permeable membrane. It allows water to pass through, but not sand. Without it, small grains of sand would creep between the wall slabs and slowly pry open gaps that would eventually cause the wall to fall apart. Michael and his crew thought of everything!

The east side of the wall nearly complete.

Building a new wall made it necessary to build new steps up to the boardwalk entrance to the Nature Center.

Addressing some of the finishing touches.

Backfilling the area above the wall where one of our edible berry bushes lives.

The wall and stairs complete!

Thank you (l-r) Roger Martin, Richard Romeo, Buddy, Billy McDonald, Fido, and Steve Romeo for the excellent wall!

April 21, 2008

Donation Weekend II

This past Saturday and Sunday was another busy weekend for Dunes Donations. On Saturday, Michael Romeo, his dad, and Southold Boy Scout Troop #6 worked tirelessly to tear down the old retaining wall outside the Nature Center and build a new one in its place. Expect a big photo post that'll show the whole rebuild process.

In the middle of the afternoon on Saturday the phone at camp rang. I answered to hear, "Hi. My name's Gregg Robinson from Sag Harbor. I have a sunfish sailboat and a drum set I'd like to donate to Peconic Dunes. Would you like them?" A brief pause..."YES!!!"

Sunday I drove from Sag Harbor to Scarsdale, picking up donations from folks all over New York. Here's a quick list of what folks donated:
  • sunfish sailboat
  • drum kit
  • pottery wheel (foot turn style)
  • pottery supplies
  • futon (for infirmary)
  • bed (for staff cabin)
There are other items Peconic Dunes could always use for programming. If you have any of the following stuffed in a closet, the basement or attic and you'd like a child to use it, please contact the camp office:
  • reference books (science, birds, botany, geography, etc.)
  • binoculars
  • telescope
  • microscope
  • snorkel gear
  • boats and boating equipment
  • art supplies
  • garden tools
The camp office can be contacted at info@peconicdunes.com or 631-727-7850 x328. Thanks!

Cornell Cooperative Extension is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit. All donors will receive a thank you letter for tax purposes (and to say thanks!).

April 16, 2008

Piping Plover Monitor Training

Tuesday and Wednesday at Inlet Pond County Park, the North Fork Audubon Society sponsored a Piping Plover Monitor Training with The Nature Conservancy, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I learned a lot of interesting things about plovers (and other coastal migratory birds) that I didn't know before. Piping plovers are monogamous while they're mating and produce 4 eggs per couple. Plover chicks are unlike people's common view of baby birds...they don't sit in the nest waiting for mom or dad to bring them food. Plovers are able to run at birth, a defense adaptation they require since their habitat is flat, wide open beaches. Plovers are also camouflaged, their feathers blending in with the sand. And their eggs look nearly identical to the small, ocean rounded rocks common to the shoreline. So campers...look before you leap!

Piping plovers are a threatened species in the northeast, but due to effective management strategies their population has been steadily increasing. Various concerned agencies estimate that at least 2000 plover pairs and a reproduction rate of 1.5 will be required to provide enough genetic variation for the plover to sustain itself. In 2007, 1886 plover pairs were counted by federal and state agents (and volunteers like me!). The reproduction rate in 2007 was approximately 1.1%. The plover's not there yet, but it's species' chances have improved every year since the management plan was implemented.

The last sentence leads to the logical question: "Are there really more plovers now or are people just seeing more of them now because they're looking?" It's a great question, and every scientist should question their data. It's commonly accepted that in the first three years of monitoring plovers their population numbers jumped and that jump is attributed to more people counting them and finding new places plovers nested. However, since those initial years few new sites have been discovered while annual plover counts steadily rise. So, it seems that there really are more plovers, and it's likely that's because the plover management plan is working.

Basically, the plover management plan is to protect plovers against their threats, both human and wild. People can be threats against plovers because we want to use the beach as much as they do. We drive our trucks, fly kites, take our dogs for walks, set off fireworks, build walls to protect our beach homes...all things that either take away plover habitat, attract other plover predators, or simply kill plovers. Other threats to plovers are birds, foxes, and beach erosion. Obviously, people aren't going to entirely give up the beach so that plovers can reproduce, but there has to be a compromise, right?

The management plan's response to plover threats are education, reasonable compromise and exclosures. Plover monitors won't freak out if you have your dog on the beach, but they may ask you to leash your dog, or walk it near the water away from any plover fencing. Various government agencies set up that symbolic fencing, (some stakes, a single string, and red flagging so people see the string), to make people aware that plovers are nesting inside the fence. Usually the fence is accompanied by a sign explaining plovers are nesting and asking people to please not disturb them (not even on your tiptoes). The problem isn't that people scare plovers...they're tiny little things that could be squashed by a mosquito and they're constantly on the hunt for food. They couldn't get more stressed out if they tried! The problem with people is that predators look for every advantage, and one way they look for food is by following people. If a bird sees a lot of people going somewhere it's going to investigate. Whether it's a half eaten hot dog or a plover chick, it's food for the predator. Which is why plover monitors setup exclosures as a last resort. An exclosure is a column of chicken wire covered in netting. The spaces in the wire are large enough for a plover to pass through, but not big enough for a fox. And the netting on top keeps the birds from attacking from above. The drawback is that when the exclosure goes up, all predators, human and animal, know something's happening and want to investigate.

Last summer one plover pair (a male and female) were seen on the sound beach at Peconic Dunes County Park. This summer your fearless camp director will be one of the people responsible for monitoring the beach for mating plovers, their anticipated nest, and hopefully their offspring.

This summer there will be lots of opportunity at The Dunes to learn about plovers and other coastal birds. I hope Everyone's getting excited! And please remember to respect the plover fencing at Dunes beach or anywhere you see it. Biodiversity depends on efforts like the Piping plover management plan to help preserve threatened and endangered species. Plus, plover chicks are really cute.

April 15, 2008

Donation Weekend

This past weekend I went on a craigslist shopping spree using only the "free" section of the popular website. For those who don't know what craigslist is, basically it's a web-based community bulletin board. People can post a note that they have something to give away, sell, a sports team that needs another player, a job...almost anything you can think of. Relying solely on items people were giving away for free, I was able to acquire a lot of nice furniture for the previously empty director's and assistant director's cabin. Included are:
  • refrigerator/freezer
  • 2 futons
  • 2 wardrobes
  • coffee table
  • dresser
  • air conditioner
  • 2 paintings
  • lamp
  • clay plant pot
Because Cornell Cooperative Extension is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit I assured all the donors I would send them a letter for tax purposes.

While I'm thrilled to have some great furniture this summer, there are other items Peconic Dunes could always use for programming. If you have any of the following and would like to make a tax-deductible contribution (to the fullest extent of the law), please contact the camp office:
  • reference books (science, birds, botany, geography, etc.)
  • binoculars
  • telescope
  • microscope
  • sports equipment
  • boats and boating equipment
  • art supplies
  • garden tools
Camp office can be contacted at info@peconicdunes.com or 631-727-7850 x328. Thanks!

Girl Scout Troop 864 (part 3)

Bronze Award: Day 3.

Troop 864 returned to the Dunes again to complete some of the finishing touches on the bridge. Now that we had the appropriate size drill bit, Scout parent Michael Anasagasti was able to increase the size of the hole in the posts that the rope railing would pass through. After that, the girls were quickly (ahhh...more like enthusiastically) pass the rope through the holes and knot it on both sides of each post.

Interesting building fact: The reason for knotting the rope rail on both sides of each post and not just the two end posts is so that the tension on the posts will be equally distributed.

Since the bridge is a little over a foot above ground level, the girls are also building earth ramps up to the bridge. This required using the camp tractor to bring in bucket loads of earth from our compost pile. After the earth was dumped, the girls made use of rakes, shovels, and a wheelbarrow to spread the earth out and build up one ramp. Once that ramp was built up enough, the girls were able to use it to transport earth to the other side of the bridge to develop a ramp there as well.

Since the Peconic Dunes Team was so impressed with the girls' progress on the first bridge, we decided to recruit them to install an additional bridge! The section of the trail where the second bridge is located is much narrower than the first bridge. Consequently, we were unable to carry the bridge in with the tractor and had to carry it in as a team. The bridges are VERY heavy so carrying it required everyone's help. After a bit of instruction on proper lifting technique (use your legs, not your back) and some heaving and ho-ing, the bridge was where it needed to be...over the rain runoff trench the girls had dug the week before.

Next week the girls will be meeting at the Southold Library to finish up their research for the ethnobotany trail signs. I can't wait to see what they look like! Great job again girls!

April 8, 2008

Girl Scout Troop 864 (part 2)

Monday the Southold #864 girls were at it again: shoveling, lugging, drilling, carrying...and having fun working on their Girl Scout Bronze Award. Grabbing rides from mom's and dad's straight from school, the entire troop worked feverishly on the Peconic Dunes County Park Nature Trail Improvement Project from 3:30pm until 6:30pm. When everyone finally packed it in the day's light was fading and we all retreated back to the Nature Center for some well deserved hot chocolate and tea.

The project goals for Monday were (1) to install a handrail on the footbridge they installed last week, (2) line the eastern section of the trail with logs, and (3) carve out some trenches to empty out standing water and direct rain runoff to avoid erosion. The girls almost completed everything, but we underestimated the size drill bit required to allow a 1/2" line to pass through for the handrail posts (answer: minimum 3/4").

The entire troop was in attendance and they should be recognized: Ria Anasagasti, Gina Anasagasti, Justina Babcock, Brittney Bellomo, Hayley Bolettieri, Melony Collins, Sydney Evans,Jamie O'Sullivan, Sabrina Panetta, Shannon Quinn, Jessica Rizzo, Abigail Scharadin, Shannon Smith, Colette Steele, Lauren Waters. Kudos, Girls, for your hard work and service learning.

Excellent job again girls! See you next week!

April 7, 2008

ACA Reaccreditation

This summer Peconic Dunes Camp will be going through the American Camp Association (ACA) Reaccreditation process. Peconic Dunes became an ACA accredited camp 3 years ago and like all camps, must be reviewed regularly to maintain its accreditation. ACA accreditation means that a camp "meets industry-accepted and government-recognized standards, possesses needed policies, procedures, and practices, and camp directors are educated in key aspects of camp operation, program quality, and the health and safety of campers and staff."

Peconic Dunes considers the reaccreditation process as an opportunity to receive feedback from peers in the camping community. The process consists of an exhaustive review of our documented policies and procedures and an on-site visit while camp is in full operation. A team of reviewers will tour all areas of our facility, visiting each program area, and meet campers and staff.

If you'd like to learn more about ACA accreditation, please contact the camp office or explore the ACA website.

April 3, 2008


WARNING: Many acronyms are contained in this post. If you're uncomfortable with abbreviated technical phrases, move on. Consider yourself warned.

If you ever used Google Earth, Google Maps, or a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit in your car, you've also used GIS (Geographic Information Systems). GPS tells you "where" you are in space using satellites to triangulate your position (which actually requires 4+ satellites). GIS is any system for capturing, storing, analyzing and managing data and associated attributes which are spatially referenced to Earth.

This summer Peconic Dunes Camp will be introducing GPS and GIS to campers through both Outdoor Skills and Nature. We'll use GPS for scavenger hunts and for mapping our campus. This information our campers collect will be valuable because it will allow us to observe our ecosystem over time.

Right now Peconic Dunes staff are getting warmed up for summer (no pun intended) by assisting SEQ (Students for Environmental Quality) at Bellport High School in their GPS and GIS work. SEQ is collaborating with the Post-Morrow Foundation and the South Shore Estuary Reserve Council to locate all the stormwater drains impacting the Beaver Dam Creek Watershed. For the past 2 months, SEQ has been taking "waypoints" (latitude and longitude) for all the stormwater drains in and around their school, which is located in the Beaver Dam Creek Watershed. Their efforts are part of a larger project to develop a Beaver Dam Creek Watershed Action Plan. We applaud the work of SEQ and hope that future projects at Peconic Dunes as just as successful in contributing geographic information to the public domain.

April 1, 2008

Peconic Dunes Community is Growing

The Peconic Dunes Blog is now 2 months old. In its first 2 months, hundreds of people from Suffolk County, NY and over 400 people worldwide have logged on (check the counter at the bottom right of the page). This blog originally started as an experiment. By being here, reading this, you've proved that there's a demand for up-to-date information on Peconic Dunes. Thank you for your interest and for being part of the Dunes community!

There are other ways you can participate in the Peconic Dunes community when you can't actually be out at the Dunes. A group of Peconic Dunes campers and counselors started a group on Facebook. Currently there are over 100 members! Peconic Dunes Camp also has a Facebook profile so if you're already a member, register Peconic Dunes Camp as one of your friends!