Aurora Gareiss and Virginia Michels Dent
Community Organizers
Queens, New York

Since the late-1960s, Aurora Gareiss and Virginia Michels Dent have led a series of battles to save the expansive salt marsh and freshwater wetland complexes surrounding their beloved Littleneck Bay in Queens, New York City. Their efforts led to the acquisition of a series of wetland preserves, including the 135-acre Udalls Cove Park Preserve, now protected by the New York City and State park, systems. Gareiss and Dent’s work did not end with the designation of these preserves; they have maintained a vigilant watch to ensure that illegal dumping, pollution, and other insults to the wetlands have been promptly remedied. As part of their tireless preservation efforts, Gareiss served as Commissioner and Dent as Executive Director of the New York State Northeast Queens Nature and Historical Preserve Commission. Gareiss co-founded the Udals Cove Preservation Committee, and most recently, Dent played an active role in the formation of the New York City Soil and Water Conservation Board. In the 1970s, Gareiss lobbied the state legislature in a campaign that led to enactment of New York’s Tidal Wetlands Act.

Both Gareiss and Dent have spent many hours promoting better public understanding of the connections between environmental heath and the health of local communities. To this end, Gareiss wrote and illustrated lively brochures on the estuarine food chain and other ecological topics. The success of Gareiss and Dent’s preservation work is due in large part to their exceptional abilities to articulate effectively the importance of wetlands to agency officials, legislators, and the public at large.

-Carolyn Summers, New York Department of Environmental Protection, and Philip Weinberg St. John’s University School of Law