(Advance photo/Irving Silverstein) Participating in the state's Student Conservation Association's Gericke Farm project at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve are, from the left, Erika Phyfer, Antoinette Cespedes and Brie Waltman.
CHARLESTON -- When the time comes for watering grass and gardens this spring, South Shore residents, like everyone else, will be hoping to cut down on their water bills.
They need look no farther than Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve in Charleston for a solution.
Earlier this month, a team from the New York State Conservation Corps' Student Conservation Association (SCA) constructed a new rainwater collection system for the park's fully-organic Gericke Farm.
Crew leaders Brieanne Waltman and Zach Wilder assisted six workers - Antoinette Cespedes, Erika Phyfer, Philip Maldonado, Andrew Henry, Sylvester Tucker and Anthony Stewart - in the process of mounting PVC piping along the gutters of the farm's greenhouse.
That pipeline feeds into a large plastic catch basin, which is mounted in the rear of the building.
"It was actually very simple to create, which is something that we're trying to show [Staten Islanders]," said Ms. Waltman. "These are things that they can use at their own homes."
The water collected in the basin will be used to irrigate the farm's crops, even though the irrigation system that had been in place at Gericke was more than adequate. Instead, the SCA felt that Clay Pit Ponds State Park could become a great teaching venue for local residents.
"We felt this was a perfect place to showcase a different method for collecting and conserving rainwater because of all the people and schools that visit the park and the farm," continued Ms. Waltman. "[These devices] can help keep excess water from entering the sewage system, preventing overflow and flooding. And a hose can be hooked up to it to water plants or to [fuel] a small irrigation system."
Showing people how to conserve their tap water, however, isn't all the SCA group has done since the program's cycle began this past July.
The group - the lone one in the city and just one of 10 across the state - has been receiving classroom-based and on-the-job trade skill training. They work on a variety of projects that include over a mile of trail maintenance, the removal of invasive plants, widening the hiking trails, building compost bins, repairing an observation deck and building a split-rail fence.
The team's education has come from seasoned professionals. For example, participants took a woodworking class at 3rd Ward, an education center in Brooklyn. Following their instruction, they returned to Clay Pit Ponds and designed and built display cabinets for the park's nature center.
Typically, the SCA targets high-school students, but this session's roster was composed mainly of 20-23-year-olds placed by the Work Force 1 Center in St. George.
Funded by a state Department of Labor grant, the SCA program focuses on green-collar job training. The hope is to transition trained individuals into permanent jobs in state parks at the close of the program in January.
Founded in 1957, SCA has been putting together community-based programs that link hands-on learning and job training for diverse urban youth.
This year, nearly 200 participants, working in teams of six to 12, made much-needed improvements at 25 state parks and historic sites.
"The SCA exists to build conservation leaders, the stewards of tomorrow," said SCA President Dale Penny. "Through this expanded partnership with New York State Parks, together we will protect our precious natural and cultural resources while preparing a new generation to prosper in a green economy. These young people are the key to achieving greater sustainability for our parks, our communities, and our future."
Jamie Lee is a reporter for the Staten Island Advance. He covers the West and South Shores and may be reached at email@example.com