To say that Sara Kulins, park naturalist at Sunken Meadow, is a phenomenal educator would be an understatement. She has a special way of reaching out to visitors whether young or old.
Thousands of people pour into Sunken Meadow State Park during the weekend. They come to cool off in Long Island Sound, picnic near shaded grill tables, or get away from the bustle of New York City for a day. It is here that Save the Sound has focused recent Long Island education and outreach projects. (Read more about Save the Sound’s other work at Sunken Meadow.)
“Salt Marsh Adventure” is how Sara describes a series of short walks she designed for all ages on Saturdays. There’s a ton of fun packed into a short hour. Sara adapted these walks based upon her experience that adults will join too—as long as they don’t have to worry about getting their feet muddy. On a recent Saturday, participants in the marsh walk were in for a treat. Children used a seine net to capture fish for observation, before releasing them back to their natural habitat. Many horseshoe crab shells were spotted. The differences between left-handed and right-handed Fiddler crabs were introduced, as well as details about eight other species of crabs found in Sunken Meadow’s waters.
Sara pointed out native marsh plants, like smooth cord grass (Spartina alterniflora), salt hay (S. patens), salt grass (Distichlis spicata), salt bush (Iva frustescens), and invasive reeds (Phragmites australis). Local women who had been visiting for years said Sara taught them many facts they hadn’t known. Young children from Queens gained exposure to many types of marine life not found on their city streets. The depth and breadth of environmental education shared by Sara in just a short time was impressive.
On Sunday afternoons, Sara takes advantage of the popularity of Sunken Meadow’s boardwalk. She brings out a portable touch tank named Sea Squirt, which is a 17-gallon learning lab fit to hold live stock. Instantly, she is surrounded by huge groups of curious onlookers. It’s a great chance to show off the beauty of the animals living in Long Island Sound’s waters.
The touch tank includes eight different species of crabs plus striped killifish, mummichogs, and an assortment of snails, mussels, oysters, and seaweeds!
The wide range of topography at Sunken Meadow State Park makes it truly a special place. It sustains a variety of flora and fauna in a brackish creek, marshes, and tidal flats. Three miles of beach meets tall, glacier-formed bluffs at the west end of the shoreline, with views of Connecticut in the distance. Sara’s expert teaching makes it worth a visit for anyone who loves Long Island Sound!
Posted by Leanne Bloom, online content specialist at Save the Sound.