I am not in the habit of speaking on my cell phone while walking in the park. I find it rude to others who may also be enjoying the outdoors, plus it distracts me from the surroundings.
But this morning an important matter had me on the phone while walking through the woods at Demarest Kill County Park in New City. I had the phone in my right hand and my dog’s leash in my left.
Suddenly I saw this crowd of people coming toward me. I couldn’t make anyone out at first, then my mind began processing the sight before me. Slowly, slowly, slowly it dawned on me: That’s Congresswoman Nita Lowey. Here. In the woods. In Demarest Kill Park.
I walked by the crowd, and they me, until a few hellos began. In the mix was Clarkstown Town Clerk David Carlucci, Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, and Clarkstown Highway Superintendent Wayne Ballard. All of the officials had taken time today to meet with members of the Rockland AmeriCorps program.
Later, I connected with the workers in the parking lot, along with Ballard and Kathy Galione, who directs the local AmeriCorps, which is part of the Rockland County Youth Bureau.
Tina Garcia, 19, of Sloatsburg, and Daniel Hoffman, 19, of New City, said rather than ask Lowey questions, the congresswoman asked the workers about their duties.
Garcia explained that workers assigned to the county Parks Department were maintaining trails, to ensure safety, and working to address any drainage problems.
Hoffman, assigned to the Clarkstown Highway Department for the summer, explained how workers walked along local streams, relieving small blockages and reporting larger ones for removal by highway crews.
Sean Ballard, 18, of New City and assigned to the county Parks Department, said he enjoyed all the hard work the program required this summer.
“I loved it. It was pretty interesting. I got to meet some pretty interesting people,” Ballard said. (Yes, his father is Wayne Ballard.)
Bobby Malka, 20, also of New City and also assigned to parks duty, said the toughest part of the job was rerouting a trail off Route 303, back behind the Saturn dealership in West Nyack. The trail crossed private property and needed to be put back onto public property, he said.
The payoff came when he saw people using the trail he’d worked so hard to build.
“It’s nice to see some people walk it,” Malka said.
Also at Demarest Kill today were Michael O’Keeffe, 21, of Pearl River, and Corey Campbell, 19, of Suffern, both assigned to the Clarkstown High Department; and Nate Aurell, 19, of Orangeburg, assigned to the county Parks Department.
AmeriCorps pays a salary and an educational grant to those who complete a certain amount of training and field work that can include jobs ranging from park maintenance to mapping the routes of streams.