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In Memoriam:

   Aurora Gareiss

             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.

Thanks, Aurora.   Aurora Gareiss at "Bit O' Bay."   Photo by Jeff Meyer.

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Last modified: 03/28/19  

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