The bees living in the Rye Nature Center’s (RNC) working and observational hives aren’t the only ones “bee-ing” busy this summer.
By Bill Lawyer
The bees living in the Rye Nature Center’s (RNC) working and observational hives aren’t the only ones “bee-ing” busy this summer. On a recent weekday morning, several groups of campers were having a great time in the Educational Garden, Nature Playground, and other facilities on the Center’s 47 acres of property. Camp enrollments have reached new heights, with several of the programs filled to capacity.
And, thanks to the hard work of the Center’s staff, regular volunteers, and special project volunteers, the Center has much more to offer campers and visitors than ever before. Many of the new and expanded Center facilities have been brought about through the efforts of Taro Ietaka, Director of Land Conservation and Stewardship.
One of the first things a visitor notices after coming onto the RNC property from the Boston Post Road are new “trailhead arbors” that have been constructed at the entrances to the walking trails by individual and group volunteers. “We want to make the entrances to our trails more inviting,” said Ietaka. “They will convey the message that these are official and safe trails that are meant to be enjoyed.”
They’re called arbors because the staff plans to plant grape vines to grow on them, if possible. Ietaka envisions late summer and fall visitors picking some juicy grapes for nourishment before starting their walk along the trails.
Along with the entry arbors, the entrance and path of each trail is “blazed” with color and graphic coded markers, suggesting the themes designed for the trail. RNC staff is in the process of updating their trail map to incorporate these new trail elements.
Other trail and grounds enhancements include the removal of invasive trees and shrubs, the planting of new, native trees and shrubs, and the clearing of any storm-damaged trees. Nearly 100 invasive trees were cut down or girdled.
In a clearing caused by the fall of a huge tree during Hurricane Sandy, the staff has planted a wildflower meadow, with little red flag markers and signs to indicate which wildflower is which.
One of the most dramatic improvements has been the removal of invasive vines and brambles that had overgrown a massive rock outcropping next to the nature playground area.
“While the ‘formal’ playground has some simple climbing elements in it,” said Ietaka, “we’ve found that the kids have a lot more fun just clambering up, down and over this big rock.” New picnic tables have been placed in the area near the nature playground, as well.
The Little Garden Club of Rye has been actively providing volunteer and financial assistance to the RNC. Their most recent project has been the enhancement of the Native Plant garden. Informative plant labels have been installed, so that people can see the various native plants that are suitable for growing in Rye’s local garden conditions.
The Rye Garden Club has also helped with RNC projects.
One of the most striking of the RNC’s many improvements is in the Educational Garden. While the construction of new, deer-proof fencing and pathways was completed last fall, during the spring and summer of this year nearly every nook and cranny of the garden is bursting with new growth, flowers, and edible produce.
Starting from the top, one notices that half of the garden shed roof has gone “green.” A variety of plants have been installed there. The other side is just a plain roof. Visiting school or other grounds can use a hose to “water” the two sides of the roof, and then the runoff is collected in rain barrels.
The demonstration shows that the green plants dramatically decrease the amount of water that runs off the roof.
Another clever planting bed is the herb “spiral” garden that shows how different plants grow at different heights and levels of exposure to sunlight. And, to the delight of young campers (and older visitors) the staff has installed a maze, using woodland sunflower plants.
One challenge that the Education Garden faces is the increased presence of chipmunks. As noted in a recent Rye Record article, this seems to be a citywide phenomenon. While they may be cute, chipmunks are known to bite into nearly ripe tomatoes, but not eat them – rendering them more or less useless. Ietaka is developing a strategy to deal with this problem – stay tuned for further developments.
All of these improvements were possible because of the help of skilled volunteers, stresses Ietaka, who helps recruit and coordinate their efforts. Among the groups are employees from Whole Foods, Timberland, Morgan Stanley, Cerebral Palsy of Westchester, and the White Plains Greening Project. Some of these groups come as often as a dozen times per year.
High school students working for their Eagle Scout awards and community service credit have been a particularly effective and reliable source of help. And then there’s longtime volunteer Henry King, who helps keep the beehives healthy and humming.
Overall, the staff goal is to reach out and attract people of all ages and educational background to come to the RNC and enjoy nature’s bounty and outdoor experiences —and, perhaps, volunteer some of their own time and energy.