Group for the East End protects and restores eastern Long Island’s environment through education, citizen action and professional advocacy. The organization also inspires people to embrace an ethic of conservation through activities and programs on the North and South Forks.

Established in 1972, Group for the East End currently garners support from 2,500 individuals, as well as foundations and local businesses. As the nonprofit is not supported by local government funding, Group for the East End remains objective when it comes to environmental issues and Long Island politics. Comprised of a full-time staff of professional planners, ecologists and environmental educators, the organization has an impressive resume of accomplishments. It has encouraged local governments to rethink development, overhaul zoning codes and adopt wetlands and open space. The organization has also played a major role in projects that clean and protect Long Island’s waters, beaches and wildlife habitats. It plans to target other important issues, including coastal erosion and airport expansion.

To ensure future generations continue its vital work, Group for the East End instills an appreciation for the environment in Long Island’s youth through public and classroom programs. Such programs have grown in the past decade, allowing Group for the East End to reach more than 1,000 local students each year. The programs spread ideas about preservation not only in students’ backyards, but also around the world.

One popular youth program involves field ecology. More than 80 children ages 8 to 15 participated in the 2010 Summer Field Ecology program. The program is best suited for children who have a desire to learn about nature and enjoy being active outdoors. It focuses on cultivating a respect for the natural world that will remain with participants throughout their lives.

The youngest group in the program, the Pondhawks, is made up of 8-10 year olds. This summer, the Pondhawks engaged in scavenger hunts, nature challenges and races, and proved to be exceptional explorers along the way. Pondhawks traveled throughout the North Fork, South Fork and western Southampton-Riverhead areas. They visited environmentally diverse locations like Orient Beach, Horton Point, Goldsmith Inlet, Indian Island, Sears-Bellows County Park, Dune Road, Morton National Wildlife Refuge, Long Pond Greenbelt and the Walking Dunes. Using seine nets, dip nets and observation skills, the Pondhawks encountered interesting creatures throughout the summer. They found— and many times gently handled and released— butterflies, dragonflies, snakes, frogs, chickadees, egrets, muskrats, deer, fish and crabs. Pondhawks also took the program’s “trash-free” lunch challenge very seriously, producing almost zero waste at meals.

The Terrapins, ages 11 and 12, began their week-long experience in the ecology program with a paddle through the tangled salt-marsh mazes of Goose Creek to Dayton Island, where they competed in an island-wide scavenger search. Adding to the adventure was a day of off-road biking and exploring Barcelona Neck Preserve. At the beach, students recreated a mini marine ecosystem in a 50-gallon tank and observed schooling fish, blue crabs feasting on mud snails and bioluminescent comb jellyfish.

The eldest group, the Falcons, took on a more challenging and lengthy paddle of Sebonac Creek and Scallop Pond. While paddling, the 13-15 year olds observed live bay scallops, ospreys and cormorants. Their off-road biking day involved some single-track trails in the Grace Estate of Northwest Woods. While exploring a pond, the students encountered numerous tiny wood frogs and handled a beautiful ribbon snake. The Falcons ended the week at Cedar Point County Park, building bird nesting boxes and relishing an evening barbecue.

In addition to producing field ecology programs and in-school educational programs, Group for the East End has environmental advocates who defend the environment from irresponsible development and propose innovative solutions to environmental problems. With the many opportunities to better Long Island’s environment, you can be sure to find your own niche if you become involved with Group for the East End.