By Keila Torres - Copyright 2009 Hearst Newspapers
Students create solar system model behind Discovery Museum
BRIDGEPORT -- As they walked along the trail they blazed behind the Discovery Museum in Veterans Park, the crew from the Student Conservation Association proudly pointed out the stumps of trees they cut down and the large rocks they cleared from the path.
During the five-week summer work program, the nine-student team cleared a path nearly a mile long by digging out plants, cutting down diseased trees and dislodging rocks -- working only with hand tools.
Teyannaprincess Wells, 17, said she had no idea she would be getting her hands dirty -- and battling mosquitoes -- when she signed up for the job through the Workplace summer job program.
"I kind of like being outdoors, but I didn't know it would be like this. When I got here I said 'Oh my God,' " said the Bridgeport resident. But Friday, Wells was proud to show off all her hard work.
Joshua Rodriguez, at 14 one of the youngest members of the team, said he had visited the museum previously, but had never wandered into Veterans Memorial Park. "I never thought you'd find a forest in the back of the museum," he said.
Rodriguez, also a city resident, said his favorite part of the experience was fashioning wooden benches for an outdoor classroom from two diseased trees taken down by the city. Pointing to one of the benches, he said, "I sanded it myself. I'd marry it if I could. It took me four days to do it."
Yesenia Rodriguez, Joshua's mother, said her son was excited when he returned home every day as he worked at his first job, but would instantly fall asleep -- dirty clothes and all.
The teens worked rain or shine four days a week to carve out a trail that will have a solar system theme to be added by the museum's staff, using state Department of Environmental Protection funds.
Linda Malkin, director of the Discovery Museum, said the outdoor classroom that the conservation corps created by clearing out a large circular area near the museum will serve as the "sun" in the small-scale solar system. Signs placed along the trail will show the relative distance of the planets to the sun, as well as highlight the difference in climates and environments.
The hardest part of creating the path, according to Joseph Martinez, 17, of Stratford, was removing the large rocks that blocked the trail. "It's tiring," he said, adding that his sledgehammer broke in half as he tried to crack a large boulder in the middle of the planned route.
Vanity Dennis, 18, of Bridgeport, said the prohibition on using cell phones during their seven-hour work days was also a challenge. "You're so used to texting, MySpace and the Internet, but they did not allow it. At the same time, it helped you open up to the people around you and bond more," she said.
Marina DeLuca and Erin Kearney, SCA employees who supervised the student workers, said they not only learned how to use tools, but became more aware of their environment.
"The knowledge that there is parkland in Bridgeport and there are spaces to conserve is new for them," said Kearney, a Durham native.
The scope of the work the group accomplished during the five-week program -- the first project SCA has sponsored in Bridgeport -- was impressive, said DeLuca, a Stamford resident.
"They were pretty phenomenal. They set the bar ridiculously high," she said. A path that's out of this world n The dirt trail created by a nine-member team organized by the Student Conservation Association behind the Discovery Museum is designed to be a small-scale model of the solar system.
A trail starts near a circular outdoor classroom representing the sun. The first signs along the trail, those closest to the "sun" classroom, are Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. At the end of the trail, farthest from the sun, will be signs for Uranus and Neptune.
Each sign will have information about the planet's environment and how it compares to that on Earth. n Mercury's sign, for example, will make note of the extreme temperatures found on the planet, said Linda Malkin, director of the Discovery Museum. At times, the temperature on that planet can be as high as 700 degrees or as low as 200 degrees below zero. "You wouldn't want to live there, is kind of the message. The idea is that we give people an appreciation for Earth's environment," said Malkin.
The trail has been blazed to make it as accessible as possible so city residents can easily take a walk through parts of Veterans Park, while learning about the natural habitat.