New York neighbors band together 4/1 Earth to clean up 'Great Baehre'
Written by Connie Larkman
May 16, 2013

Neighbors from Western New York worked to clean up the Great Baehre Wildlife Management Area as part of the UCC's Mission 4/1 Earth. Pictured are, left to right, John White, Piotr Gajowka, Norm Schifferle, John Gasper, Kathy Gasper. Photo by Linda Schifferle

A small group of neighbors in Western New York, with inspiration from the United Church of Christ's Mission 4/1 Earth, banded together to clean up one of the area's few remaining natural habitats — the Great Baehre wildlife refuge in Amherst. The effort, organized by Norm Schifferle, a member of Faith UCC Williamsville, N.Y., brought together nine volunteers with a deep appreciation for God's creation.

The volunteers, who didn't all know each other at first, live in the neighborhood adjacent to Great Baehre, part of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). Nine of them spent a few cold and rainy days, May 10 and 11, cleaning up debris in the swampy wildlife refuge. There were a lot of perils in the project, both natural and manmade, according to Schifferle.

"The information provided to potential volunteers included possible hazards and precautions to take while in the swamp. The irregular terrain held trip hazards, the vegetation was rife with poison ivy, the mosquitos had been confirmed to carry West Nile Virus, and the local deer were known to harbor ticks carrying lime disease," he said. But the nine waded into the swamp anyway, to honor Mother Nature, in what Schifferle calls "an often maligned habitat."

A few of the neighbors hauled away bag after bag of debris. A couple of the others found partially buried 30-foot lengths of aluminum material they pulled out along the one of the recreation paths, and yet another discovered a rotting lean-to type of structure which could have been used a kids playhouse. But Norm and his son came upon something that turned the wildlife refuge into a pretty dangerous dumping ground.

Photo by Linda Schifferle

"What I discovered was a nightmare scene," Shifferle said. "Sticking straight up out of the soil from 2 to 4 feet in height were dozens of one inch thick construction rebar, posing impalement hazards to unaware visitors who might accidently lose footing. My son Zach and I worked in the afternoon along a drainage ditch where we filled three bags of trash. We left a submerged car battery but alerted a DEC Ranger about it, as well as the dangerous rebar mound."

Shifferle figures he put in about 45 hours of earth care on this project, but it resonates much deeper with him. "My sense of the UCC's promotion of the Mission 4/1 Earth was more than a simple tally of hours," Shifferle said. "Amherst, N.Y., stands at a crossroads. There is a continuous attack on the few remaining natural habitats in our community by developers with money. In my conversation with God still speaking, the word is to plant a mustard seed, the Great Baehre, and then nuture it."

Schifferle says the Great Baehre Swamp exists in a highly developed area of Amherst. He hopes the community surrounding it will continue to see its nature-base — "the Canadian Geese and Mallard Ducks nesting, turtles sunning, Great Blue Herons patiently waiting, snakes sidewinding, deer loping, possum motionless, beaver making waves, fox trotting, and woodpeckers drilling" — and continue the grassroots care the neighbors offered on May 10-11.

For more information on Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days, visit ucc.org/earth, read these stories, or join the movement on Facebook.
To count your efforts on the Mission 4/1 Earth tally board, report your earth care hours, trees planting and letters written, report in as often as you like here.

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Ms. Connie N. Larkman
Managing Editor & News Director
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-2196
larkmanc@ucc.org