2006 Environmental Education Week


(This 785th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on April 16, 2006.)


Today begins Environmental Education Week, a week designed to extend and increase the educational impact of next Saturday's Earth Day. The oversight National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF) has set substantial participation goals for the week: 100,000 educators, 3 million students, 50 million hours of educational programs and 5000 Earth Day projects.


One reason this week is especially important: the emphasis in schools on what NEETF calls "high-stakes standardized testing" has driven "elective subjects like environmental education from many of America's classrooms." Indeed, if my observation of the demise of electives in the schools is extrapolated, we need an Environmental Education Year rather than just a week.


Dozens of activities will occur this week, the annual spring shoreline sweep only one of them. To find out about them, see Will Elliott's calendar on the Outdoor page of today's News sports section or contact Professor Brenda Young to receive Daemon College's excellent monthly internet broadsheet, Enviro-News.


Because the sanctuary is not well enough known, I focus in this column on the activities of the staff and volunteers of the Dr. Victor Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve in Cheektowaga, a unique 292-acre enclave located on Honorine Drive off Como Park Boulevard between Union and Transit Roads.


The property, part of which was formerly a Seneca Indian Reservation, was purchased in 1932 by physician-attorney Victor Reinstein who then designed and constructed the 19 ponds and the marshes and woodlands of the reserve. He also built eight miles of gravel roads, which serve as trails today. After Dr. Reinstein died the state was deeded the property by his family and the preserve was dedicated by the Department of Environment Conservation in 1989.


Today the preserve is staffed by three deeply knowledgeable and enthusiastic naturalists, Kristen Buechi, Lauren Makeyenko and Ginger Wszalek. They are assisted in a wide range of activities by over 140 volunteers who serve roles like youth instructor, tour guide, trail steward and nature photographer. Among others, about 4000 school children visit the sanctuary each year.




Because I am temporarily handicapped, the naturalists drove me through the woods and I had a chance to see once again this remarkable preserve in the middle of suburban Cheektowaga. Careful records have been kept of the wildlife here and the list includes 15 species of fish, 16 amphibians, 10 reptiles, 143 birds, 25 mammals, 71 trees and shrubs, 170 wildflowers and, among the many invertebrates, 29 dragonflies and damselflies and 22 butterflies. In the past I joined Chuck Rosenburg recording some of those amphibians and observed with him a remarkable seven screech owls and I followed Bob Andrle and Bill Bogacki as they recorded many of those birds, dragonflies and butterflies.


We didn't see much wildlife on that rainy day, but we did see the huge beech tree that is a candidate for largest in the state and a red-tailed hawk that had caught a squirrel. The squirrel was too heavy for the young hawk to carry off so the raptor stood its ground glaring at us fiercely as we passed within a few feet.


To protect its wildlife Reinstein Woods is only open to unsupervised visits at scheduled times: Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On each Wednesday and Saturday public tours begin at 10 a.m. These do not require reservations, but groups of ten or more are urged to contact the staff beforehand at 716-683-5959. Other group tours may also be specially scheduled.


Special programs that call for pre-registration at that phone number during Environmental Education Week include:


CSI: Critter Sign Investigation at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Like the TV show, participants will learn to examine evidence and read clues, but in this case those left by animals.


Sounds of Spring at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Listen to and learn to identify the sounds of courting frogs and toads.


Stories in the Woods at 10 a.m. Thursday. Children aged 4-7 will listen to a nature story followed by a walk through the sanctuary.


Earth Day Cleanup at 10 a.m. Saturday. Celebrate Earth Day by helping clean trails. Bring gloves and a rake. Refreshments will be provided by the Friends of Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve.


Find out more at the preserve's website.