by Regina McCarthy
My early career in environmental education began in 1981 on my sabbatical year at Gateway Environmental Study Center with Ruth Eilenberg. Looking back there was little that happened in the remaining 25 years at the Board of Education (now Department of Education) that was not in some way touched by Sam Holmes, Chief of Interpretation at Gateway National Recreation Area. Sam along with many others were founding members of EEAC.
When Gateway began those early environmental pioneers knew how critical it was to connect to the school system for the success of their visions. There were also staff at the Central Board of Education that would easily get behind the idea of a Centrally run facility. Gateway Environmental Study Center(GESC) was founded with this vision. Ruth Eilenberg was the Director there for the next twenty years. One of the first programs she and Sam created with the National Park Service was school camping. An area within Floyd Bennett field was designated as Ecology Village for this purpose. A triangle of campsites were developed over the next thirty years by NPS. Thousands of children were able to benefit from this program as a joint effort of the NPS and GESC. In addition, Sam and others introduced to the school system Operation Explore a residential out of city program where students experienced a marine program at Gateway with NPS and a residential outdoor program with the help of Clare Beckhart and State Parks. There was also a farm experience with NYS DEC. Cornell Cooperative Extension and DEP also became involved. How lucky I was to be able to walk in the shadow of these giants in Environmental Education. When I left the classroom in 1982 and worked in the school districts, I was able to bring these programs to the districts I worked in as a science director. During this time EEAC also became a coordinating effort bringing regular conferences to a citywide audience of educators.
In ending I need to say as many have before, Sam Holmes was one of the kindest gentlest souls I have ever known. How fortunate we all were to have known him. He truly taught us all that African saying, It takes a village. I pray that this vision lives on.