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Urban Naturalist Leads Education Efforts in New York City Parks

The love of wildlife takes many people to western U.S. states like Wyoming, California and Colorado, where they can work or play in a one of America's vast national parks. But Sarah Aucoin has chosen to protect wildlife in a place where you find much less of it - New York City. Aucoin is making a difference as an Urban Park Ranger, raising awareness about Manhattan's green spaces and restoring the city's natural heritage.

When most people think of New York City, images of a vibrant, bustling city bustling come to mind.

But what many people do not know is that the city is home to some 11,000 hectares of parks as well as marshes, wildlife, hiking trails and recreation areas.

And Sarah Aucoin, Director of New York's Urban Park Rangers, helps to inform them.

Through the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Urban Park Rangers has been providing environmental education programs to the public for 30 years. For Aucoin it is a dream job. "I was always bringing animals home as a kid," she recalls, "I repeatedly tried to bring home eggs that I would try to, you know, incubate and hatch."

Aucoin oversees a force of 25 rangers. She also runs nature centers in all five of New York City's boroughs, or districts, and manages an education program that tries to teach children respect for their natural surroundings.

"That sense of connection, it gives them a sense of empowerment and control over their environment. And I think that that's very important for kids. It helps to build empathy," Aucoin said.

As Director of Urban Park Rangers, Aucoin has expanded outdoor adventure programs like overnight camping, fishing and raptor conservation. But she has also found herself in some unusual urban wildlife situations.

"The most obscure work that rangers are engaged in involves wildlife. There have been a number of coyotes that have made their way into Manhattan. Once we were called to [the borough of] Queens, where there were literally thousands of green frogs that emerged from a drain pipes around the school. You could barely walk along the paths," she said.

Sarah Aucoin says that educating a busy, urban population about nature can be challenging, but that it is that challenge that makes her role so vital.