The crew woke up early on the first day to bright sunlight in our tents. Birds were shouting from the trees, and a raccoon had gotten into our food stores during the night. Our campsite at Floyd Bennet Field is a leafy, grassy, green oasis that looks rural despite being located in southeastern Brooklyn. Once you step outside the bounds of the little campsite, though, it’s apparent that the place used to be an airport – it’s very flat, with wide swaths of open runway segmented by little areas of grass and trees. Blue outlines of skyscrapers behind the trees also remind you that you’re not far from Manhattan.
Monday morning was the first chance we had to really gather as a whole crew – on Sunday, crew members were trickling in from all over: taking flights from as far away as Hawaii and taking the subway from as nearby as Queens. By the time our last member had arrived, we had to hold our first meeting in the dark. So in the cool morning air I was excited to really meet everyone whom I’d only chatted to in our car rides, and nervous to see how the group would come together. In this crew there were both novices and experts at camping and conservation work. We have sixteen members and only a week to accomplish a series of much-needed tasks in this park – not much time to work, not much time to learn, and not much time to bring together an effective team.
By two o’clock I realized I needn’t have worried. This crew is going to rock it. We got down to work in the afternoon, after we spent the morning going over tool safety, camp organization, and other essentials. Our task was to clear an area of the debris left by the hurricane. The pile of wood, reeds, and trash was above my head, several feet deep, and maybe sixty yards wide, but despite an unexpected thunderstorm, we put a serious dent in that work. At one point the group was stuck, realizing that we needed to figure out how to wheelbarrow the trash to the back of the open-ended dumpster, while the front was blocked by debris. My co-leader Stephanie decided to open the question up to the group. Not long after, we had people carrying over some of the longer boards we had collected and making a ramp to get the trash to the back of the dumpster. Soon we were running in smooth shifts again, filling wheelbarrows and carting them up our makeshift ramp.
I was proud of the work we accomplished today, but even more excited about how well the group worked together. People found themselves tasks and chatted while they shoveled or raked. They switched when they felt tired and had smiles on their faces the whole time. This is a new experience for many of our crew, but they’re already learning from their peers and I feel certain that we will have a confident group of hands-on conservationists by the end of the week.