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Hero for a day home.

Heroes of Conservation.

John Sferazo

John Sferazo
Huntington Station, N.Y. Retired union ironworker, Local 361

A year before the twin towers fell, Sferazo purchased a 1,000-acre former asphalt-plant site in Maine, and he founded the nonprofit American Greenlands Restoration Inc. (AGRI) to reestablish flourishing habitat for deer, ducks, woodcock, and snowshoe hares. After volunteering at Ground Zero post-9/11 and suffering emotional and physical trauma, Sferazo opened his land to other first responders and combat veterans.

 

When you’ve seen the kind of devastation that I have seen, you recognize how the outdoors can offer refuge and healing. Hunting and fishing has always offered me solace.

Back when I purchased this property in July 2000, people thought I was taking the wrong medication or something. There were no trees—only asphalt and trash. So we created a new matrix in the soil, using hundreds of tons of compost, and planted fruit- and nut-bearing trees. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife worked with me to reinstate a dam. Moose, duck, and goose populations all exploded. Unknowingly, we were creating an ideal scenario: restored wildlife habitat in a state with one of the highest ratios of military veterans and first responders per capita in the nation—folks who needed a place to decompress. When the twin towers collapsed, I volunteered for 29 days removing debris, as an ironworker is uniquely trained to do, and breathing in all those chemicals. Your brain has a tough time deciphering what you’ve seen. Working on the land and being outside gave me an outlet for my psychological trauma, and I wanted to give others the same. We cultivated 60 acres especially for snowshoe hares and dug out strips to give wheelchairs access. Volunteers from the Pine Grove Program and Unity College have now provided nearly 200 servicemen with free hunts on this property.

No one man should be acknowledged for this project. I’ve worked with more than 30 local and federal organizations on this living tribute to all those who have made extreme sacrifices. It’s the right fight, at the right time, for the right reason.


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