Joe Bushman, who is in his final year of the MS in Ecology program at CSI, a Verrazano School alumnus, and also an Urban Park Ranger (UPR) for NYC Parks on Staten Island, has witnessed some changes to his responsibilities in the wake of COVID-19. However, some of the new duties have provided him with the opportunity to help keep people safe.
Pre-pandemic, Bushman said that an average day as a UPR would entail preparing for and developing “Pop-Up” and “The Natural Classroom” programs, where rangers would educate park visitors on a number of topics such as history, stewardship, ecology, conservation, waste management, and more.
Now, additional duties include distributing PPE and ensuring that visitors follow social distancing requirements.
So far, Bushman reported that “There has been a mix of reviews. There are some people who are extremely grateful for the mask distribution and are seemingly more in need than other areas on Staten Island. In other areas, patrons have been very combative about us engaging and educating them on social distancing.”
On the positive side, Bushman stated that “Quite simply, it feels great to be able to distribute PPE in areas of need. It’s a minor, but positive interaction and helps people who may be struggling in these tough economic times. Being able to make someone smile makes it all worth it at the end of the day.”
As would be expected, there are also challenges, as he noted “The rules we have to follow changed almost daily, as this is a relatively novel situation for NYC.” He added that “Patrons, like all of us, experience some sort of ‘Lockdown Fatigue’ or cabin fever and use the parks as a refuge to “get out of the house” and attempt to regain some degree of sanity.”
As NYC begins a cautious reopening, Bushman explained that “we must now involve social distancing into the plan. This can be easily done for some programs like nature walks, but now we need to be more mindful of sanitizing binoculars after every single use. The natural classroom, Pop-Up, and weekend adventure programs will have to be reimagined to limit potential contact and ensure the safety of patrons.
By Terry Mares