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For Release: Monday, April 19, 2021

DEC Announces Winners of Inaugural Stewardship Appreciation Awards

Awardees Recognized for Extraordinary Service to Improve DEC Facilities and Enhance New York's Natural Resources

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the first recipients of the inaugural Stewardship Appreciation Awards. The award recognizes outstanding contributions of volunteers and partner organizations in stewardship, promotion, and maintenance of state lands, waters, and DEC facilities.

The announcement was made during the Department of Environmental Conservation's week-long celebration of Earth Day 2021.

DEC Commissioner Seggos said, "With nearly five million acres of land and hundreds of buildings and facilities, DEC works hand-in-hand with our dedicated partners and volunteers to keep these special places welcoming and accessible for the visitors who enjoy them each year. Whether New Yorkers are hiking, paddling, fishing, birdwatching, or just appreciating our natural resources, more often than not there's a partner or a volunteer helping to make that experience more meaningful. As New Yorkers continue to seek refuge on our public lands during the COVID-19 pandemic, our partners are more important than ever. My sincere thanks and congratulations to all of the winners of DEC's first-ever Stewardship Appreciation Awards."

The Stewardship Appreciation Awards were launched in 2020 to recognize not-for-profit organizations, individuals, educational institutions, and municipalities that have formal agreements with DEC. This year's winners were chosen for their commitment to stewardship, promotion of environmental education, and creativity in programming. The 2020 winners are:

Stony Kill Foundation - Public Engagement Award

In 2017, Stony Kill Foundation launched a new collaboration with San Miguel Academy of Newburgh that bridges the Foundation's hands-on farming and environmental education programs with San Miguel Academy's mission to educate and inspire City of Newburgh youth, so they may break the cycle of poverty and achieve new potential. Every two weeks, San Miguel students spend time at Stony Kill Farm with the Foundation's educators, helping raise lambs, tapping maple trees, incubating chickens, and participating in a wide range of immersive projects that encourage students' curiosity and confidence and foster a closer connection to the working farm, its fields, and forests.

children around a table outdoors
Students participate in hands-on learning at Stony Kill Farm

Adirondack 46ers - Natural Resources Steward

From its 46ers Trail Crew to Outdoor Skills Workshops, the 46ers collaborate with DEC to steward state lands and educate the recreating public. In 2017, the 46ers started a Trailhead Steward Initiative held on summer and fall weekends to help educate hikers heading up Cascade Mountain about Leave No Trace principles, proper gear, waste disposal, and general DEC guidelines. Over the course of a season, the completely volunteer-run Trailhead Steward Initiative interacts with more than 13,000 hikers. Other recent projects include the relocation of the Mt. Van Hoevenberg lean-to and rock and gravel work at the bridge over Santanoni Brook.

Three volunteers stand under pop-up tent with informational table in front of them
Adirondack 46ers trailhead steward program,
courtesy of Adirondack 46ers

Mike Medvesky (Friends of Five Rivers) - Natural Resources Volunteer

Mike Medvesky is a volunteer instructor with the Guided School Program (GSP) at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar, New York. GSP volunteer instructors are responsible for guiding outdoor ecology lessons to groups throughout the school year. These instructors are invested in environmental education and work collaboratively with DEC and Friends of Five Rivers staff to offer instruction on the living environment, as well as seasonally relevant content. In his 10 years of volunteering, Mike has led 264 lessons and reached nearly 4,000 students and chaperones.

man giving lecture
Mike Medvesky, courtesy of Friends of Five Rivers

Catskill Center for Conservation and Development: Fire Tower Project - Adventure NY Award

The Catskill Fire Tower Project was established in the 1990s as a partnership by DEC and the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (CCCD). The project has a network of passionate volunteers who deliver an invaluable service to the Catskill Park and surrounding towns by providing historical and naturalist interpretation at the five public fire towers, conducting visitor counts, and reporting maintenance issues to DEC. In 2019, the volunteers helped to facilitate the Catskills Fire Tower Five Challenge by greeting and encouraging visitors to finish the challenge. Nearly 900 outdoor enthusiasts from across New York State, 12 additional states, and Canada completed the challenge between July and December 2019.

people at a fire tower
Catskill Fire Tower Project volunteers
at Overlook Mountain Fire Tower

Rocking the Boat - NextGen Award

Rocking the Boat created a Bronx River ecology curriculum, dubbed the Bronx River Experience. This year they hosted a virtual class of 29 students who spent three program days in a curriculum unit called Water and Responsibility, where they learned about combined sewer overflows affecting the river, and used "Sewer in a Suitcase" models to illustrate runoff issues and design their own urban landscapes to prevent contamination from runoff. The 21 Job Skills apprentices dove deep into the impact of the Clean Water Act of 1972 as the foundation for water regulation today.

Volunteer stands in river with large net
A volunteer in the river, courtesy of Rocking the Boat

Grasse River Restoration Partners - Innovation Award

A groundbreaking effort to preserve native mussels and their habitat in the Lower Grasse River in Massena, New York, this effort was launched in 2017. As part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-led cleanup project to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from river sediments, a seven-mile stretch of the lower Grasse River was dredged in 2019 and 2020, and capped starting in 2020 with an additional 200 acres to be capped this year. In order to prevent widespread loss of the freshwater mussel community, DEC embarked on multiple efforts to collect mussels from the river bottom ahead of dredging/capping activities and temporarily placed these mussels in areas that were not subject to capping or dredging. The New York State Museum and St. Regis Mohawk Tribe are collaborating with DEC on the project. As of early 2021, 400,000 mussels have been saved because of this effort and 12 founder colonies of mussels have been placed back into remedial areas to jumpstart recovery. The mussel relocation project is part of an ongoing partnership with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to address a legacy of contamination and improve habitat in the region.

Volunteers sit in and around a boat while inspecting mussels
Grasse River Restoration Partners, mussel collection

"I love this program," said Stony Kill Foundation Program Director, Stacey Lynch Adnams, "The students always arrive talking about our last session's activity and excited to launch into whatever project we have in store for them when they get here." "My experience at Stony Kill Farm was really good because I got to see stuff that I've never seen before like seeing a baby lamb be born and taking care of the animals." - Steve, San Miguel Student

Mike Medvesky: "It is an honor to receive the DEC Natural Resources Volunteer Award. I truly enjoy working with children in exposing them to the wonders of nature. Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, with its dedicated DEC staff, and Friends of Five Rivers volunteers, prioritizes bringing nature to the public, while protecting a wide range of habitats for years to come. It is a pleasure to support such an undertaking."

Randy Coburn, President of Friends of Five Rivers: "Mike is a friend of Five Rivers in the truest sense of the word. He selflessly gives his time and energy to a variety of projects, serving as a Guided School Program instructor, bluebird nest box monitor and Scout program leader, to name just a few. His hearty "good morning" is a familiar start to each time Mike is on site, brightening the days of those around him as he shares his love of the outdoors. We are thrilled to have Mike's contributions to Five Rivers recognized with this award."

Jeff Senterman, Executive Director of the Catskill Center: "The Catskill Center is honored that the Catskill Fire Tower Project was chosen to be recognized by the DEC with the Adventure NY Award. Our five volunteer fire tower coordinators and more than a hundred volunteers work incredibly hard every summer to staff the Catskill Park fire towers for almost the last two decades. Donating thousands of hours of their time, our dedicated volunteers serve as ambassadors for the Catskill Park and interpreters of the magnificent experience visitors have when they make the hike to a fire tower. We look forward to strengthening our volunteer program in the coming years, incorporating the Catskill Visitor Center's Upper Esopus Fire Tower into the program, and building off the strong foundation that has been set to offer even more outreach, interpretation and education to visitors of the Catskill Park through the Catskill Fire Tower project."

Siobhán Carney-Nesbitt, #5930W, President- Adirondack Forty-Sixers, Inc.: "The 46ers are honored and humbled to receive this award. Our hard working and dedicated volunteers strive to engage, educate, and include everyone in our efforts of stewardship."

Adam Green, Executive Director of Rocking the Boat: "We are so honored to receive the NextGen Stewardship Appreciation Award. It is especially meaningful that DEC is recognizing Rocking the Boat for our work enhancing New York's natural resources. The South Bronx, where we are based, is often written off as a place devoid of nature, but Rocking the Boat participants well know that the Bronx River is teeming with life despite decades of pollution and habitat loss. They proudly row up and down the river, collect data, bring back habitat, and spread the word. Their next project is a pollinator garden that will greet visitors on either side of our front door. It is the perfect symbol of our environmental work, and the award captures that same feeling."

"The New York State Museum is honored to receive this recognition with partners from Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe," State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa said. "The value of abundant and diverse communities of native mussels for the healthy functioning of freshwater ecosystems has been a focus in this project and we greatly appreciate DEC's support. My congratulations and thanks go to our Museum staff for their ongoing efforts to preserve the native mussel community and their habitat in the Lower Grasse River."

"The lower Grasse River is part of the Mohawk Indian Meadows, and projects like this demonstrate how meaningful State and Tribal partnerships with shared goals and restorative visions can protect the environment resources valued by all. We love the freshwater mussels, they provide a critical ecosystem service and benefit to our St. Lawrence River watershed. We're honored to receive this stewardship award with our New York State DEC and Museum partners and look forward to our continued collaborations doing great things in the years to come," said Jessica L. Jock, Remediation and Restoration Program Manager at the SRMT Environment Division.

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