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Webb students give Welwyn Preserve much-needed TLC

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Welwyn Preserve, on Crescent Beach Road, was once a little-known gem in Glen Cove, a place many enjoyed for the solitude of a quiet hike on a trail or down to the shore of Long Island Sound. But what previously attracted few became a destination for many over the past year, as people searched for outdoor activities. The influx of visitors, combined with a year of heavy winds, left the preserve in dire need of cleaning up.

Last Friday, dozens of students from the Webb Institute volunteered to do just that. “It’s been a little abandoned, and we have thousands of people coming through on the weekends now,” Jolanta Zamecka, president of Friends of Welwyn Preserve, said. “Welwyn is such an important preserve to this community, and people have discovered Welwyn and its fantastic trails.”

Webb students Luke Herbermann and Jackson Juska helped organize the volunteer effort after contacting Zamecka earlier this spring. “We had a Welwyn cleanup two years ago, mostly picking up trash, and thought it would be better this year to reach out,” Herbermann, 22, explained. “We wanted to make it a big deal because it had kind of died out last year.”

He and Juska encouraged other students to get involved, Herbermann said, and a crew of about 75 spent a few hours on Friday afternoon clearing branches, removing trash and painting.

The Webb Institute, a naval architecture and marine engineering college, is adjacent to the preserve, and students spend a lot of time walking the trails, Herbermann said. Some, like Hank Roland, also enjoy bird watching several times a week.

“Welwyn is a phenomenal place to go bird watching, because there’s a lot of variety,” Roland said. “The whole preserve is excellent, with all of the different habitats, open grass, greenhouses, and really gorgeous woods and creeks. There’s so much space.”

Cleaning it up not only benefits the birds, he said, but “makes it generally nicer for everyone in the park, for people who are coming in and enjoying the preserve.” Roland said he was happy to volunteer for the cleanup, and added, “I love this kind of work. I love being outdoors.”

Zamecka said that Webb students have been volunteering for many years, but this was the largest group she’s seen. In addition to clearing the trails, she said, they planned to mark the trails with tags instead of spray paint.

Zamecka is also vice chairman of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County, which shares the property, and created the Children’s Memorial Garden 21 years ago. The one-acre garden has recently undergone renovations, including the construction of an amphitheater for outdoor workshops and the installation of memorial stanchions, completed in 2019.

Bob Praver, 95, vice chairman of the memorial garden, was on hand on Friday, overseeing the students’ progress and replenishing supplies. “He has been the engine that can,” Zamecka said. “He makes us all work.”

Several years ago, Praver recalled, he was sitting on a stone bench in the garden with his son. “We looked around, and the garden was in such terrible shape . . . the weeds were horrific,” he said. “And I said to my son, ‘You know, maybe I can do something.’ And I did.”

Praver got one person involved, who got someone else involved, “and it kind of mushroomed from there,” he said.

There were no lawns at the time in the Children’s Garden, just shrubs, and weeds had taken over. “Planting grass was the solution to the weeds, and by doing that, it opened the garden up,” Praver said. “People can picnic; children can run around.”

As chairs of the center’s Garden Committee, Praver and Zamecka are responsible for raising funds. “Most people don’t realize how expensive gardens can be,” Zamecka said. “The initial expense was about $350,000, and we needed $240,000 to $250,000 for the last phase.”

Along with planting grass, the expenses included irrigation and repairing brick work. The garden memorializes the 1.5 million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust, as well as children around the world who died in World War II. As part of its revitalization, 14 memorial stanchions were erected, displaying quotes about the Holocaust. The next projects being planned, Zamecka said, are to get the dolphin fountain working and to fix the patio.

“We’ve been very blessed,” she said, “because recently we’ve had two major donors.” The Shirley and William Fleischer Foundation contributed to the garden’s revitalization, as did Steven Dubner Landscaping.

The center also received a grant from New York state to repair the patio, Zamecka said, “But the problem is, we first have to spend the money, and we don’t have the funds.”

Currently, she said, they need $10,000 for the patio repairs. Those interested in making a donation can send a check to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, earmarked for the Children’s Garden.

A dedication and reopening ceremony for the garden is planned for June 6. A public cleanup of Welwyn Preserve is expected to take place later this spring, at a date yet to be determined.