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Queens Chronicle

Volunteers to help restore Gateway

Federal program will tend to Sandy damage around Jamaica Bay

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2013 10:30 am

Volunteers will be descending on Jamaica Bay this summer as part of a federal program aimed at repairing damage done at Gateway National Recreation Area by Hurricane Sandy.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on May 30 launched the “National Parks of New York Harbor Conservation and Resiliency Corps,” a partnership with the city and the Student Conservation Association, a group that has had experience with disaster recovery across the country. The program, which the Obama administration is hoping will lead to a large, similar one, will provide approximately 200 volunteer jobs for young people in 2013 to participate in Hurricane Sandy recovery and cleanup efforts.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said 2013 will serve as a pilot year for what is expected to be a multiyear program for youth and young adults from around the region to assist in the response, recovery and mitigation of Hurricane Sandy damage within the national park units and their partner sites in New York City and New Jersey. The Corps’ first focus will be on Gateway and adjoining city parklands at Jamaica Bay, possibly including Charles Park in Howard Beach, which residents nearby say has been neglected by the National Park Service, overseen by the DOI.

“This youth corps will not only strengthen recovery and mitigation efforts in our National Parks throughout the region, but it will also serve as a model for the power of public-private partnerships to boost youth employment and connect young people to the great outdoors,” Jewell said.

The program is a public-private partnership, with $975,000 in funding from Sandy Restoration and Recovery funds and matching SCA funds. Clothing retailer American Eagle Outfitters is sponsoring 25 of the 200 corps members, who will begin work on June 16.

Kevin Hamilton, a spokesman for the SCA, said around two dozen volunteers began work on Monday and 100 high school volunteers will begin working in the area on July 6. Hamilton said the vast majority of the volunteers will be from the New York area.

These 200 members of the new parks resiliency corps are in addition to the approximately 200 workers that city Parks Commissioner Veronica White announced on May 13 as part of the “Jamaica Bay/Rockaway Parks Restoration Corps,” which was funded by an emergency grant from the state and federal departments of labor.

Hamilton said he did not immediately know where the volunteers were working and that discussions were still ongoing as to where the incoming volunteers will go. He also did not immediately know if Charles Park will be among the areas that will be served. Although the NPS did clean some of the storm damage and members of the Doe Fund worked at the park earlier this spring, some residents have complained recently about the state of the park, including most recently overgrown grass on the baseball diamonds.

The volunteers will help in restoring parts of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge that had been damaged, including the breach in West Pond that destroyed the freshwater lake, and damage at Jacob Riis Park and Floyd Bennet Field.

The Obama administration is planning to use the program as a model for a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, called 21 CSC, aimed at allowing diverse low-income, underserved and at-risk youth, as well as returning veterans, gain training and work experience by working on public lands and waters.

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