Calling for master naturalists of the universe
You could call Mindy Block, founder and president of Quality Parks, the unofficial steward of parks. “Someone said it’s to improve the quality of a visitor in nature,” Block said of her nonprofit’s environmental mission. “It’s going to a local park and pushing to make a bridge fixed or not bulldozing and destroying the environment as a way to protect it. It’s free advocacy work.”
Block is offering a three-day master naturalist workshop at the Bellport United Methodist Church, 185 South Country Road, March 16-18. Her program offers a focused awareness of the natural world and simple solutions for those who feel helpless in this “no climate change” era of dwindling bees and other disappearing wildlife. There is homework at a local “adopted” park and six core sessions or modules, including marine ecology.
Block organized Quality Parks, a
501(c)(3), in 2000; an example of her organization’s gauntlet of change is the Quality Parks petition circulated online and signed by interested hikers that helped nudge Suffolk County to repair Cranberry Bog bridge, which had been closed for six years. County parks department staffers recently devised a sturdy renovation with reused materials, a resourceful solution. The cost? An estimated $1,000. Hikers can now traverse the bridge along the trail loop in Cranberry Bog Preserve in Riverhead.
She’d like to see more of that happen via her courses and will be working with the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven.
“Eric wants to draw Quality Parks in for classes,” she said of wildlife biologist and former park ranger Eric Powers, who co-founded CEED with Rebecca Muellers. The old Washington Lodge off South Country Road is where CEED will have its headquarters, thanks to a Brookhaven Town-Suffolk County partnership, with help from the Post Morrow Foundation.
The aim is to include state-approved continuing education and leader education courses for teachers there. Block said she was applying to the New York State Department of Education for the green light.
Powers said he was also hoping to get Block located in their building — she works out of Port Jefferson now — when the renovations are done. “We’ll open up the center part of the building for environmental organizations and it’s ideal for her,” Powers said. “She can bring her classes there for CEED. It would give people a central location for the master naturalist classes and we’re really excited about having her on board. We’re a year or two away, but we want her there.”
Block will be the first to tell you her inspiration was husband, Ray Corwin, the first executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission. The couple reveled in hiking the Pine Barrens and were both active with the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference. Corwin died suddenly in 2010 at age 56 at his Suffolk County Water Authority office in Oakdale
It left Block bereft. Besides being a loving partner, Corwin was a highly respected environmental leader. “But someone told me my role was to carry on his work,” Block said.
Except there was a steady flame already pushing her quietly to proceed, planting pitch pine trees in the woods after the 1995 wildfires as well as wildflowers like lupines. She had formed Sustaining Systems LLC in 1990 with the idea of working with various government agencies doing conservation work and was teaching master naturalist classes through the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Yaphank, where the Suffolk County Farm is located.
She has a master’s degree in environmental studies from Antioch University New England.
Powers said he encouraged Block to teach master naturalist classes on her own, putting her own spin on things, when they ended for her at Cornell.
The longing for master naturalists has been around for a while. John Turner, conservation policy advocate for Seatuck Environmental Association, who also works for Brookhaven Town, said the original master naturalist program at Cornell was started by him and Eileen Gerle, pushing Long Island’s natural history.
Turner was happy to hear Block may be relocating to CEED. “Having Mindy at the CEED Center is appropriate and consistent with their mission,” he said.
Powers pointed out that Block has always been an important dot connector for him.
“The first time we met, I was exploring my tick and quail program and she introduced me to someone who had a small pen who was raising a dozen quail there,” he said. Quail are voracious tick eaters and Powers wanted to take his idea further. Because of Block’s introduction, he used the information passed on, raised some quails and discovered they really were effective tick removers. He also met his CEED co-founder Rebecca Mueller through Block.
For the Quality Parks master naturalist three-day workshop, sign up at
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