Udall's Park Preserve
The Ravine and Aurora Pond
At various times over the past million years, global cooling caused massive ice sheets to form over much of the northern United States, surging southward from Hudson Bay in Canada, collecting boulders, cobblestones, gravel, and soil on the way. As temperatures began to rise 15,000 years ago, the ice receded from Long Island. As the ice melted, the debris was deposited throughout the landscape. On Long Island, it created the range of hills along the North Shore—called the Harbor Hill Terminal Moraine. North of these hills formed flat-topped points of land that now project into the Long Island Sound. These are the peninsulas of Great Neck, Bayside, and Douglaston that flank the pre-glacial river valley of Little Neck Bay and Udalls Cove. As the melting continued, runoff formed streams that cut into the landscape, creating ravines.
One such ravine was created here at Udalls Park Preserve, south of where the Long Island Railroad tracks now run. Much of it is privately owned, but the ravine still offers visitors exposure to a natural habitat. Downy woodpeckers (Dendrocopos Pubescens) can be heard marking trees, and butterflies such as the silver-spotted skippers (Hesperia comma) and eastern black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) flutter from flower to flower.
The ravine’s focal point is Gabler’s Creek, which flows north and empties into the cove. It carries soil that washes down from the walls of the ravine into the salt marsh. Further, the Gabler’s Creek is of utmost importance to the area’s American eel (Anguilla rostrata) population. The young eels, called elvers, enter the creek and live there until maturity, when they return to the Atlantic Ocean to spawn.
The forest that surrounds the ravine is host to various forms of plant life, primarily box elder (Acer negundo), which prefers the moist soil on the banks of the creek. Other species include black willow (Salix nigra), silver maple (Acer saccharinum), hickory (Carya), and tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Several vine species are present as well, such as wild grape (Vitis), porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), Japanese hops (Humulus japonicus), and kudzu (Pueraria lobata), which wind up tree trunks and throughout upper branches.
Various animals live in the forest, among the trees and vines. The tracks left behind by raccoons (Procyon lotor) provide ample evidence of this. The black-masked and ring-tailed raccoons will eat just about anything—from the frogs (Anura), salamanders (Salamandridae), and grasshoppers (Acrididae) in and around the creek, to the large insects and wild fruits throughout the forest. During the fall and winter, they rely on acorns that fall from oak trees (Quercus) and Pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) for food.
At the northern edge of the ravine, just south of Sand Hill Road, is Aurora Pond. This pond is named for Aurora Gareiss, co-founder of the Udalls Cove Preservation committee in 1969, who along with Virginia Dent fought for over 20 years to insure that this rare natural wetland would receive publicly sanctioned environmental protection. This body of water was created when Sand Hill Road was paved and a channel was made for Gabler’s Creek. Until the 1940s, the present site of the pond was swampy, due to groundwater that seeped to the surface. The construction of the road created a dam on the northern edge of the site, while earth that was dug out to make the channel for the creek was left on the east side of the site. As a result, the wet area was isolated and dammed, forming Aurora Pond.
The pond is filled by groundwater and storm water runoff from local streets of a higher elevation. Its plant communities are characteristic of freshwater wetlands, and include cattails (Typha), barnyard grass (Echinochloa crus-galli), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), rice cutgrass (Leersia oryzoides), hairy willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum), American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), box elder (Acer negundo), and red maple (Acer rubrum) trees. The pond is getting more shallow as erosion brings in sand and sediment from the ravine’s walls. Invasive species such as common reed (Phragmites australis) thrive under such conditions—often at the expense of native plant species.
Still, the pond and the ravine surrounding it are home to many different animals throughout the year. These include wood ducks (Aix sponsa), blue-winged warblers (Vermivora pinus), Louisiana water thrushes (Turdus), and fowlers toads (Bufo woodhousei fowleri). Visitors to the preserve cherish this pocket of nature in this densely populated corner of Queens.