“What’s happened at the reservation, something’s changed.” That’s the word that has been getting back to Rick Rodgers since November when he returned to the Pound Ridge Reservation after 10 years and took over as Park Foreman. For park goers able to make the connection to Rick’s return, Christmas came early more than once last year. Beth Herr, museum curator since 1989, moved into the also vacated superintendent’s position before Thanksgiving. And she’s heard a few things herself.
It comes down to, “We had a vision for the reserve,” says Mr. Rodgers and the previous administration focused mostly on maintenance – lawns cut and toilet paper roles filled, he adds. Now, these are givens while “keeping it safe and beautiful for people and keeping it safe and beautiful for wildlife” is how Ms. Herr sums it up.
So what have the people seen that’s making them take note? In the surrounding buildings they planted pansies, hung curtains and redid the old drab green trim in an Earth beige. “It just gave it a whole new feel,” says Mr. Rodgers. The bathrooms also got some bright paint to cover the gloomy shade that once prevailed and the white picket fence outside the main office has added a nice touch for hikers looking to end their day on the front porch. Simple change but the vision really began to take shape as they addressed the messy upstairs of the main office. The more they cleaned, Mr. Rodgers says, “the light went on that this had art galley written all over it.”
Sounds nice but do the words budget cuts mean anything to these two? A new art director is more than an ad in the paper away. From his point of view he’ll tell you, “if you find someone who’s working in nature, you’ll also find an art fan,” but these two are far from just being fans.
One look at their work now hanging on the upstairs walls will tell you that. Ms. Herr’s colorful and finely detailed reproductions of the local fauna, leaves the eyes with an almost 3-D impression that jumps out at you from clean white backgrounds.
Mr. Rodgers describes his work as abstract and if her work jumps, his leaps. Bright adjacent polygons of color that he coyly claims to be exactly the same subjects as hers, only she’s close up and he’s far away.
This isn’t just going to be the Rick and Beth show either. It’s about community. They’ve lined up plenty of local artists to cover them for the next two years, and that includes aspiring artists from area high schools. They hope the new galley can have the same effect the Jacob Burn center has had in Pleasantville, where a little culture has brought in business and inspired community and discussion.
Fine, but what if you’re not interested in seeing nature hanging on some wall. Don’t worry they have that covered too. There’s lots of “visual things” he says, “but there’s a whole lot under the surface that the untrained eye doesn’t appreciate.”
The species recovery projects they are involved in are particularly important. Various forms of butterflies, birds, snakes and swallows have all been driven out by development and environmental issues and bringing them back requires knowledgeable land and water management.
“Biodiversity is the word,” she says, “and variety is what it needs and what keeps that going is a variety of habitats.” Although, this part of “The vision” has more to do than just the joy some people get from seeing a long gone dragonfly.
“People are realizing what a reservoir of life this is and are using that and other data to try to create better planning for development,” says Ms. Herr.
Important stuff but “the hardest part is being responsible for peoples safety,” she says. Keeping the trails safe, getting help to someone who’s broken their ankle and finding someone who’s gotten lost on the trails.
The most frustrating part of the job hangs on people who disrespect the park with vandalism, graffiti and dangerous four wheeling. The minority sometimes makes Mr. Rodgers feel like he’d gladly “walk into a den of coyotes before walking into a shelter.”
Still, he puts a positive on it, noting that some of the teenagers he had to give a talking to 20 years ago come here with their kids now and are learning what he impressed upon them. “That’s all I could ask for,” he says and neither asks for much.
Maybe because they both have a lot. For instance, they’re both a little confused by the word hobby. “My hobby is my life. On my days off I’m doing exactly what I’m doing now,” says Ms. Herr.
On Sunday she took off for Maine to participate in a workshop on amphibians, and he was hiking the Clark Reserve his last day off, preparing for his next project. Although he does like to seek out music with his son, who is a musician, and is not ashamed to admit that the words, “Dad you got to go home now,” usually end his nights out in Manhattan.
It’s not really surprising that the he likes to occasionally gear it up in the city considering how most of his education came through his thumb. At 16, he left his home in Verplank, N.Y. and hitchhiked around North America for ten years, “hitting hotels once in a while for a shower,” he says.
His refined side probably comes from a mother who dragged him to galleries and museums through his childhood. It must have caught up with him by 1977 when he settled down to the reserve – wife and three sons followed. He’s been with the Parks Department ever since.
Ms. Herr’s education was more conventional. She grew up in West Virginia, graduated from West Virginia University and settled in New York as a teacher. She meandered into nature education, botany and worked in several nature centers until she arrived at Pound Ridge 18 years ago. Of course in lean years, she stayed afloat by she says, “prostituting myself” as a commercial artist – designing boxes and menus, doing calligraphy, etc. Those days are over, for both of them, and they count themselves among the lucky he says, “because they get to have their art and eat it too.”
Rich Monetti interview of Rick Rodgers and Beth Herr