By Jessica Easthope
Bottle rings, fishing line and plastic bags, Mary Beth Artz knows picking up trash in Prospect Park is a matter of life or death, especially for Evan. Evan’s not a person, he’s a swan, one of the many Mary Beth and her teams of volunteers watch over and protect.
“Since the pandemic it seems like there are a lot more people out, a lot more trash and we just need to learn how to share the space with our wildlife,” Mary Beth said.
She’s a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and a founding member of both “W.I.L.D. for Prospect Park” and the “Swan Squad,” they rescue the birds that call the lake home. They’ve made 31 rescues this year alone.
Mary Beth and other volunteers like Sarah Wagner, have the same goal – keeping the animals safe, but over the years they’ve grown to have much more in common.
“We’re almost like a family now, each of us empower the other,” said Mary Beth.
“To have these relationships is really what’s sustaining, and those relationships are with each other as volunteers, with the park, the trees, the animals,” Sarah said.
And it’s not all about the rescue. Part of Mary Beth’s mission is to educate people on the wildlife in Prospect Park, when you see the swans pick at themselves, they’re taking oil from an oil gland in the back of their bodies and rubbing it all over their feathers, it’s how they stay waterproof.
“We’re passing it along, the more people that know, the better off we’ll all be, the wildlife and the people,” said Mary Beth.
Mary Beth says she’s constantly reminded of her Catholic faith when she’s in the park, and in her element.
“St. Francis is my patron saint, and I just feel that we need to be better stewards of the wildlife we’ve been given that share this planet with us,” she said.
If she has one message, it’s you don’t have to rescue birds to save them – all you need to do is take more out than you came in with.