By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette — City children, seated in bright yellow kayaks, learned paddling techniques on Hyde Park Lake Monday as part of a program designed to immerse them in nature.
The two-day series for middle school-age children, which will begin again Wednesday for an additional 30 children, is part of a campaign by the Niagara Falls Housing Authority and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, funded by Honeywell International.
"This program opens up a whole new world for young people and gives them an appreciation for the waterways and the environment," said Stephanie Cowart, director of the authority, calling the series a "life-changing experience."
Most of the children paddling around Hyde Park Lake had never been on a kayak, according to Jill Jedlicka, director of Buffalo Riverkeeper. "It was exciting to see their smiles.
"To have any child to respond in such a positive way to being on the water is the whole purpose to what we are doing," said Jedlicka. "We (at Riverkeeper) are protecting and restoring the waterways and this is the generation that is going to inherit this responsibility. They're the future environmental stewards of our resources."
The children, who were bused from the housing authority to the lake, spent the afternoon bird watching at the park with a member of the Buffalo Audubon Society. Each child was given a pair of binoculars to keep. The group spotted many species of birds, including three breeds of heron, according to Riverkeepers staffers, Chris Murkawski. On Tuesday the group will put their kayaks into Cayuga Creek and paddle around Cayuga Island, he said. There will also be a representative from Reinstein's Nature Preserve who will lead a water-based science project.
Honeywell International Inc., is the company responsible for cleaning up the soil on the authority's Track II property after being identified as a “potentially responsible party” for the lead contamination in the soil by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Cowart said Honeywell, a global manufacturing and technology company, is funding the children's series as what she calls an "impressive pilot program" which she hopes to grow into a two-week series next summer. The ultimate plan, she said, is to create a connection between Honeywell and the children in the program who will, hopefully, participate each summer as they grow into adults.
Jay Kelly, the Honeywell Buffalo Research Laboratory site leader, kayaked with the children on Hyde Park Lake. "It was really great," he said. "The kids were so excited about getting into the water.
"One of our missions is specifically to get middle school students excited about math and the environment," Kelly added, noting that Honeywell's Buffalo research lab currently has about 150 employees working on developing more environmentally-friendly materials for refrigeration and home insulation and other applications. "We don't have enough kids today interested in those fields and that's where the jobs opportunities are."
There is still room for middle school-age children to sign up for Wednesday's program, which will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. To sign up children for Wednesday's program call the authority at 285-6961.
Riverkeeper holds free kayak tours all summer long for children and adults who wish to see the area waterways up close. For more information visit www.buffaloriverkeepers.org.