Civics, history and the environment all came together Monday at a crossroad — or at least at intersecting trails — at the Idlewild Park Preserve.
More than two dozen volunteers braved the early-morning chill to commemorate the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a day of service.
Area residents young and old, joined by the Roots and Shoots Youth Brigade of the Eastern Queens Alliance, took a socially distant sojourn to the park’s trails cleaning up litter and in a few cases hauling off junk, including the mangled remnants of an outdoor party tent.
Barbara Brown, president of the EQA, said the effort was valuable for myriad reasons.
“It’s important that our youth learn about history and of Martin Luther King,” Brown said as the crowd began assembling. “It’s also important that they learn a sense of responsibility, and a sense of stewardship for the park.”
Idlewild is a 242-acre oasis of green nestled between John F. Kennedy International Airport and the Nassau County border. It has a cricket pitch complete with metal bleachers, but also open fields and wooded trails.
But it also has a salt marsh that hosts both resident birds and migratory species.
“We have egrets; the egret is our symbol,” Brown said proudly. “We have ospreys and owls. Some came from the airport — they don’t want any birds at the airport. We also have hermit crabs and fiddler crabs.”
The rest of the park, of course, has the ubiquitous squirrels, raccoons and other critters. And it all sits just to the east of the EQA’s new environmental center that, absent the Covid-19 outbreak, would have been open and functioning back in the fall.
“Now we’re hoping to be open in March,” Brown said.
The small army of workers was outfitted with work gloves and long trash-grabbing claw devices. Steven Villegas, the assistant environmental education specialist for the EQA, gave a brief history of King’s life, focusing largely on his childhood and how it impacted his life’s work.
Bill Perkins of the Rosedale Civic Association and Lonnie Glover, an officer on the EQA board, spoke briefly to the young volunteers and also picked up trash.
“Remember that Martin Luther King Jr. was only 23 when he began,” Perkins told the group.
They then followed Emily Knudson, the environmental education specialist, back to the trails.
Paper, bottles and cans, plastic and all kinds of refuse were loaded into bags. Brown said the trash has been worse this year since Covid struck last spring.
“The Parks Department had to cut its maintenance budget,” she said.
The city this fiscal year slashed $84 million from the budget of the Department of Parks and Recreation, leading to a reduction of more than 1,700 season maintenance workers. About 450 were cut from Queens.
Knudson, contacting the Chronicle the next day, said 22 bags of refuse were collected along with large pieces of junk and debris.