Rockefeller State Park Preserve Manager Improves Educational Programming and Park Maintenance
by Linda Viertel –
I’m just so happy to be back; I missed it so much,” said Peter Iskendarian, Rockefeller State Park Preserve’s Manager. “It’s such a special place – the only one I would have left my previous job to come to. And, it’s only going to get better.”
Iskendarian was the former manager of the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park and assistant manager of the Preserve from 2004-2007 when he left to become Moreau Lake Park’s manager. During his 12 years there, the 6,000-acre Moreau Lake Park roughly tripled in size, added 28 miles of new trails, six backcountry cabins, and diverse year-rounding programs including a brand-new observatory for night sky viewing.
This past year, Iskendarian has had a full plate of improvements already in the works and planned for the Rockefeller Preserve. He and his staff have implemented multiple new education programs: a full moon hike as well as a sensory hike each month, sunset hikes, tree identification hikes for kids, and general hikes for those eager to learn new trails. A new Halloween program highlights local history at the Preserve: this year Hulda the Witch was featured with almost 200 attendees.
Iskendarian is getting schools involved at the Preserve as well. The Ossining Schools are sending students for fishing programs, with the Department of Conservation providing funds for all the fishing equipment and learning aids. In his first year, he has taught approximately 40 students five classes at Swan Lake. Of course, any of the bass or sunnies caught are released. Iskendarian has also created nature programming for nursery school-aged students, with the Strawtown Elementary School from West Nyack taking full advantage of this new educational program. Plans are in the works to put up a yurt for a “nature nursery school” in the Preserve.
Building the Preserve’s maintenance team through new hires and promotions has been an important goal for Iskendarian. With over 1200 drains needing cleaning underneath the carriage and walking trails so that the roadways don’t wash out, the job is cumbersome and time-consuming. But, thanks to the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, he was able to purchase a backhoe to make the job easier.
A $250,000 grant to redo the Brothers’ Path walkway around Swan Lake, has been matched by Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve. This carriage road is the gateway to the Park, where most visitors have their first experience with the Preserve’s beauty then return for further walking, hiking and educational experiences. A portion of the $500,000 funding will also make sure this pathway is entirely accessible for people with disabilities.
In addition, new maintenance facilities were needed on site, and Iskendarian instituted a three-phase capital project to accomplish that goal. Phase 1 of the capital project was to construct a heated maintenance building to have a break room, workspace and a “place to call home,” for the maintenance staff, he noted in his Preserve Manager’s recent report. The previous sheds lacked electricity and running water, but new sheds were completed on August 8, with equipment and tools moved in immediately afterward.
Phase 2 will be completion of the unheated portion of the building, a two-bay heated garage to secure the equipment, which should be finished in early 2020. Phase 3 will be the redesign and paving of the back parking lot which will improve parking and add another pay station plus electric charging stations.
Even more projects are in the works for Iskendarian. He wants to improve internet connectivity at the Preserve with the installation of a new fiber optic line. The final project will be a rehabilitation of the Swan Lake Dam. Though this is not a safety issue, he emphasizes, work needs to be done on the dam control mechanism and outlet pipe to ensure proper water flow continues.
Those of us who live in this region are fortunate to have the Rockefeller State Park Preserve minutes away for so many forms of family recreation. But, we often take this local treasure for granted and don’t stop to think of the managerial responsibilities, the staffing, and the costs of maintaining such a popular 1,771-acre park filled with 65 miles of carriage roads, forests, wetlands, meadows, brooks and the 22-acre Swan Lake. We are indebted to neighbors like Iskendarian who have the vision, knowledge and experience to be the park’s consummate custodian, not only protecting the Preserve today but planning for future generations’ education and enjoyment.