In early 2000, one of our community's best died.
Aurora Gareiss lived in an ivy-covered house in Douglaston named
Bit-`O-Bay, on the water just south of Memorial Field.
By the 1960's, fast-spreading development had already destroyed hundreds
of acres of wetlands and wooded uplands in our area, and there were many
proposals for further development. The
wetlands between Douglaston and Little Neck, known as Udalls Cove, were to be
filled in for a golf course. In
addition, the remainder of the wetlands between Douglaston and Bayside were to
be filled in, and the wooded upland Ravine between Douglaston and Little
Neck was to be developed with new houses and businesses.
Aurora became deeply concerned about the loss of valuable wetlands and
upland watershed areas in Douglaston and throughout the country.
In 1969 she founded the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee (UCPC), and
became the quintessential little old lady in tennis shoes type of citizen
activist. Within a few years, there
wasn't a politician or government official around who didn't know Aurora.
She helped persuade the residents of Douglaston, Little Neck and Great
Neck, and just as important the relevant government officials, that
these weren't just swampy wasteland, to be filled in and built up as fast as
possible. She preached that the
marshes are essential for the quality of the water in the Cove and Little Neck
Bay beyond, and that the woodlands above are essential for the quality of the
marshes. As a direct result of her
leadership work, the City and State of New York created the Udalls Cove Park and
Wildlife Preserve, which extends from Northern Boulevard to Little Neck Bay; and
the City also extended Alley Pond Park north of Northern Boulevard to the Bay.
These two parks are the natural crown jewels of Northeastern Queens.
A memorial service held at her former home a few months after her death,
on a beautiful Spring day, was attended by every local elected official, and by
former New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and many of his senior
staff. As virtually every one of
them said during the service, Aurora was one of those rare people who can spend
years in the service of a good cause cajoling, badgering, arguing, pestering
and nagging, but not alienating folks.
We owe Aurora this: that there are still swamps in our corner of
Queens where kids can play and explore and get muddy and lost; that we still
have lots of beautiful, open space on both sides of the peninsula; and that we
can see herons and egrets and ducks and swans and osprey and muskrat and turtles
and even foxes in this extraordinary part of the greatest city in the world.
As much as anything else, these are the things that made and still
make growing up in this community something special.
|Aurora Gareiss at "Bit O' Bay." Photo by Jeff Meyer.|
Last modified: 03/28/19