By BRENDA REES
ECHO PARK — Community advocate and avid birder Judy Raskin passed away in 2014. But folks in Echo Park continue to remember and be inspired by her tireless commitment to improve her neighborhood and her love of urban wildlife. At a memorial service held last week at Echo Park Lake, friends, elected officials, fellow bird lovers and students from local elementary schools celebrated her legacy with the debut of birding backpacks that can be checked out at the local library.
Called Judy’s Echo Bird Kit, these backpacks contain essential gear and resources for children and adults to dive into the birding world, especially around Echo Park Lake, where Judy led many bird walks, including the annual Christmas Bird Count.
“We hope these backpacks will inspire stewardship of the lake and its surroundings,” says Joelle Dobrow of the Edendale Library Friends Society, who helped coordinate the project in partnership with Los Angeles Audubon, the Los Angeles Public Library and other organizations.“Judy would have loved this backpack idea.”
The backpacks, which are available to library card holders at the Edendale branch, contain binoculars, bi-lingual birding guides, field information on birds typically found at Echo Park, notebook to record findings and information on how to share sightings with the bigger bird community.
Dobrow added that local elementary schools that are within walking distance of the Echo Park Lake – Logan Academy of Global Ecology and Mayberry Street – and nearby Esperanza are eager to take advantage of the backpacks for birdwatching trips at Echo Park.
“These backpacks come full circle,” says Brad Rumble of Esperanza, who met Raskin in 2010 and recalls the walks she organized around MacArthur Park. “She took the time to create a student-friendly check list of birds that was perfect. She saw the potential in youth and never talked down to them; she met them at their level and valued their intellect where they were.”
As a volunteer with Los Angeles Audubon, Raskin was instrumental in organizing and leading the annual Christmas Bird Count around Echo Park Lake – which today is still searching for a replacement. (Enthusiastic birders are encouraged to become an Audubon member and take on the mantel.) In addition to the birding backpack program, Raskin’s estate has helped support numerous nonprofit groups , many that support education for low-income youth and children, and paid for new benches and tables at Echo Park Lake that were dedicated in her honor.
“Her interest was always the birds,” says Susan Borden, longtime Echo Park resident who often joined in the bird counts. “Sometimes it would be raining but that didn’t stop the count. My job was to walk near Judy and write down all the birds she saw. She really opened up many eyes to the natural world around us. She was very articulate and knowledgeable.”
The Judy’s Echo program is starting with five backpacks and organizers hope that the program will organically spread to other libraries as it encourages new and old generations to scan the skies, peer into the treetops and watch the wings of local birds.
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