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Community garden created to benefit birds


The Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center, in Oyster Bay Cove, just got even greener. Local volunteers gathered last Saturday to plant a new community garden of native plants that support birds and other wildlife.

The garden, right off the parking lot on a small hill, was funded by the National Audubon Society, which contributed a $5,000 Burke Grant. The once grass-covered area is now home to beautiful flowers and beneficial plants. The day’s team consisted of volunteers of all ages, all passionate about conservation.

“I really like connecting to the natural environment,” said Will Convoy, 16, of Merrick. “I feel like that’s something that’s lost nowadays. I like getting into it, going out to your local park … and I really like doing work around here.”

The Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center was donated to the New York state office of the Audubon Society by W. Emlen and Christine Roosevelt in 1923. The purpose was to memorialize their cousin Theodore, who is buried in Young’s Cemetery, adjacent to the sanctuary. It is the oldest Audubon songbird sanctuary in the country.

Like many of its events, an educational portion of the day was scheduled, with plans for a local school group to plant the garden. But coronavirus protocols made a school field trip impossible. So Audubon Center staff, members of the North Country Garden Club, a Sagamore Hill ranger and a few local residents did the planting.

The Audubon Center’s Teen Conservation Ambassadors Club was also involved. The club comprises local teens who are passionate about conservation and volunteer frequently at the sanctuary. “A lot of [the projects] are led by them or are their ideas, things that they’re interested in,” said Kathryn D’Amico, the center’s director. “They’re very motivated.”

Many of the teen Ambassadors once attended the center’s summer camp, whose oldest campers are 12. With many of them wanting to stay involved after they aged out, a summer counselor-in-training program was created for those ages 13 to 17. Now it’s a year-round group.

“I’ve been working with the people who do the camps here, and I’ve been coming to the camps since I was very young,” Convoy said. “[It] was really fun, so I decided to keep doing it.”

In addition to their work at the Audubon Center, many of the teens are active in their school and community preservation efforts, doing things like starting recycling programs. Some are interested in careers in environmental conservation.

Julia Parry, 16, a senior at Oyster Bay High School, wants to one day own a nature preserve, “so this is a really useful experience for me,” she said. She is learning, among other things, what it takes to coordinate a small crowd of volunteers.

“It’s helpful for them when they’re starting to think about their college major or they need references or stuff to put on their college [applications], to be part of a local group like this,” D’Amico added.

Whether or not it’s for a resume, the teens share a common passion for preserving the environment. “I think that it’s very important for everyone to understand their roots, literally and figuratively,” Convoy said. “I think that people need to connect to [nature] so that they understand we’ve got to conserve it and … we can live in a nice, still-green world.”

The Audubon Center is doing great work, Parry said, but the Oyster Bay community needs to do more. “A lot of people around Oyster Bay and Oyster Bay Cove, I feel like they don’t really connect with the local environment …,” she said. “They have beautiful gardens, but it ends at their garden. Knowing what types of birds are around here [and] what types of animals, it’s just super, super important, especially in today’s climate and how everything’s changing.”

To find out which native plants are best suited to the birds in your area, go to the Audubon database at audubon.org/PLANTSFORBIRDS.