Environment & Nature

Rebecca Kassay along with the crew from Aureate Visuals and local hired help in front of their 1991 Winnebago. Photo from Kassay

Baltimore, Maryland. So much has been said about the city, criticism that came from way beyond the city itself. But Rebecca Kassay, the co-owner of the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, saw something incredible from the people living there. There was a community in the neighborhood of Cherry Hill growing fresh fruit and vegetables, teaching others to farm, giving access to fresh food for people who live several miles from the nearest supermarket. The program, called the Black Yield Institute, was making a difference in their community, and the Port Jeff resident said she knew it needed to be seen by the world.

Rebecca Kassay fist bumps a volunteer at Cherry Hill, Baltimore’s Black Yield Institute. Photo from Kassay

“What they’re doing there is just so incredible as far as combining uplifting the community — integrating culture and fun,” said Kassay. “It was amazing to experience it with my own eyes and be there while this incredible group said, ‘we’re going to create this garden, how can we help people become more aware of health issues and social issues?’”

The inn owner is out on the road, touring in a renovated 1991 Winnebago with her husband, Andrew, and their dog. Filming with a Setauket-based crew, she is trying to spread the news of just how many nonprofits and volunteer works are out there and how much good they do for their respective communities.

“What I really love is connecting people, not just with a cause they love to help, but more importantly, connecting them with the power within themselves,” she said.

The show, titled “Be the Change with Rebecca,” is finishing filming throughout the fall before transitioning to full post-production during the winter. The show expects to come out sometime in spring 2020 on Amazon Prime video.

Kassay, 30, who was born in St. James and later moved to Port Jefferson to open the Fox and Owl Inn with her husband, said the show is inspired by modern serialized documentaries, and takes a form much like a show she loved as a child, “Dirty Jobs,” hosted by Mike Rowe. In much the same way to that Discovery Channel hit, which had the host performing a variety of blue-collar jobs on screen along with the regular workers, Rebecca gets down and dirty with the volunteers, whether it’s driving in nails while building houses or digging in the dirt in a community garden.

“We’re collecting the stories of how they do the work and how they decided to come out,” she said. “Such as, here’s what it looks like when you volunteer at a community garden, here’s what it looks like when you volunteer to restore an oyster reef.”

By the end of their trip, they will have traveled as far east as Baiting Hollow on Long Island, as far south as Washington D.C. and as far west as Detroit, Michigan.

Kassay had the idea for this project nearly two years ago, working off her own background as a youth volunteer project manager at Avalon Park and Preserve. She reached out through local Facebook groups for a crew interested in taking on the project, and the Setauket-based Aureate Visuals production team answered the call.

The three filmmakers, Steve Glassner, Larry Bernardo and Marvin Tejada, have donated their time on a pro bono basis to help make the project possible. All three have worked on projects before, such as Mentally Apart, a feature film set to premier by the end of the year. All three met while in school at Five Towns College.

“It’s been a very, very fun experience, especially all the people we meet and the locals who worked on the crew with us,” said Glassner. “It’s been a real learning experience. We’re meeting people from all walks of life, and it’s amazing and incredible what they’re doing in their own communities.”

The project has taken in this spirit of volunteerism with the crew. The folks at Aureate Visuals, in keeping with the spirit of the show, have volunteered their time to the project. Several of the crew work day jobs, and so they are constantly travelling back and forth from Long Island to where the next shoot is taking place.

Rebecca Kassay, middle, works with a group of volunteers at an oyster farm. Photo from Kassay

Glassner added production has been smooth, and each shoot “felt like we were a family — no egos — it’s one giant collaboration.”

For the most part, the project is self-funded, though they have received significant pledges from the Port Jefferson Rotary Club and have financed $1,654 so far from backers on Indiegogo. Everything else is coming from the owners of the Fox and Owl Inn. Their minimum budget, according to their Indiegogo page, includes $3,000 for travel and lodging, $3,000 for local crew wages, $1,500 for per diem food, $500 for miscellaneous expenses and $800 in Indiegogo related fees.

As the family goes around in the renovated Winnebago, retrofitted with whitewashed cabinets and flooring to make it feel like home, she has become surer this was the right way to get the message across.

“Working with these young people when you connect them with a power within themselves, they just light up,” Kassay said. “The light in their eyes is something the greatest gift you can give someone, connecting them with that.”

The project still has investor space open, and the Indiegogo ends on Sunday, Aug. 18. People can visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/be-the-change-with-rebecca#/to donate.

Elected officials were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at Old Field Farm. The event marked the official opening of a nearly half-mile trail that can be used for walking, running, hiking and biking. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Elected officials have made it easier for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy a county property in East Setauket.

At a press conference Aug. 12, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), employees from the county’s parks department and residents were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at Old  Field Farm. The event marked the official opening of a nearly half-mile trail that can be used for walking, running, hiking and biking.

Bellone credited Hahn’s persistence for making the trail happen. The legislator secured $100,000 from the county’s 2018 Capital Budget and Program to fund the path. The trail starts at a pedestrian entrance on West Meadow Road on the eastern side of the farm, runs around the perimeter of the farm and ends on Trustees Road right before visitors enter the Town of Brookhaven’s West Meadow Beach pathway.

“What a wonderful gem this park is for our community and for the county, and what an incredible addition this is for people,” Bellone said. “You think, well is a path that significant, and the answer is yes. It literally changes the whole environment for people.”

Hahn said she knows that trails such as the Old Field Farm are important to the community, because it allows people to be physically active, while enjoying the outdoors without sharing the road with vehicles. 

The nearly half-mile trail can be used for walking, running, hiking and biking. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“I’m a runner, and I run often on West Meadow Road here,” she said. “There are some blind curves. And, this will also function to get people — walkers, runners, bikers — off the dangerous road and on to our public space. Having people have access to these public places is so important for us as elected officials to make sure that these spaces that we invest in — that we spend money to maintain — that people use them and appreciate them, and this is a way that many more people can take advantage.”

Hahn thanked community leaders for their support, including county parks department employees, Herb Mones of the Three Village Civic Association’s land use committee, Larry Swanson from Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Englebright, who secured the land for Suffolk in 1985 when he was a county legislator. She also thanked Sally Lynch, president of Old Field Farm, Ltd., who she called an advocate and steward of the property. Hahn said the nonprofit organization has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through the years. The funds, in conjunction with county grants, have helped to restore and maintain the historic structures on the property. The farm is also home to horse shows, and the trail will be closed during those shows to avoid spooking the horses.

Old Field Farm consists of 13 acres that adjoin the 88 acres of protected wetlands and overlooks the Long Island Sound and West Meadow Creek. Long Island philanthropist Ward Melville built Old Field Farm in 1931, and it was initially called North Shore Horse Show Grounds. Melville commissioned architect Richard Haviland Smythe to create the equestrian facility, which includes a main barn and courtyard, freestanding stables and a wooden grandstand.

“This property is exquisite, spectacular as you can see,” Hahn said.

Englebright said the property could have been sold to a developer to build a waterfront housing development in 1985. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, who owned it at the time, decided to sell it to the county. The land acquisition was an important one, he said, because it is located right next to West Meadow Beach. The assemblyman described the area as a mosaic of public lands forming a protective encirclement around West Meadow Creek. He called the addition of the trail extraordinary.

“With the access now of this trail, when you add this trail to Trustees Road, you have more than a mile of waterfront-exclusive, non-motorized access,” he said.

In the past, Hahn has spearheaded initiatives for a parking lot and walking path at Forsythe Meadow Woods County Park in Stony Brook and a parking lot at McAllister County Park in Belle Terre.

 

Town of Huntington Department of Maritime Services bay constables clean up the harbor, remove derelict boats and hardware from Huntington waterways on July 24, 2019. Photo from the Town of Huntington

The Town of Huntington Harbormaster’s Office will start mooring permit enforcement on Friday, August 16. Boaters are urged to submit a mooring permit application by August 15. Unpermitted boats will be fined $250 starting August 16.

The Huntington Town Board approved a major boating safety and water quality protection measure at the June 18 meeting to help prevent irresponsible boat ownership and irresponsible boating, after the town spent $50,000 to remove derelict and abandoned boats in 2018.

The new system establishes a $40 per season resident permit fee, with all funds deposited into the Board of Trustees account.  Non-residents already paid $200 per season for the same permit.

The move aims to place liability for removing, storing and disposing of unseaworthy and wrecked vessels on the owner or person responsible for the vessel.  The funds will also be used for pollution mitigation and remediation of other navigational safety hazards.

 Revenue from the permit fee will help the harbormaster’s office build a database to help the town identify owners of boats abandoned in Huntington’s waterways and hold violators responsible for creating hazardous boating safety conditions. 

The approved measure also established and increased required insurance limits for vessel wreck removal and pollution mitigation.

The new regulations also lowered the cost, from $200 to $40, for transient commercial mooring permits for commercial entities leasing or owning land in Huntington, to help boost the town’s maritime economy.

 The mooring permit application can be found on the town website at: http://www.huntingtonny.gov/mooring-permits. 

Mooring permit applications may be submitted, with the proper paperwork and payment by check (or by credit card in the office), in person or by mail, to: Huntington Board of Trustees, Harbormaster’s Office, 53 North New York Avenue, Halesite, NY 11743. Documents may also be faxed to 631-351-3373 or emailed to tshannon@huntingtonny.gov.

 The Harbormaster’s Office is open Monday through Friday 8:30 AM-4:30 PM. For application assistance, call 631-351-3255 or email Trudy Shannon at tshannon@huntingtonny.gov.

The town is allowing commercial baymen who operate in Huntington’s waterways to have their mooring permit included with the issuance or renewal of their commercial license.

compiled by Donna Deedy

New York State's native ladybug population, coccinella novemnotata, in major decline.

By Donna Deedy

Who doesn’t love a ladybug? Everyone seems to hold at least a certain amount of affection for the insect. So, people might find the news somewhat heartbreaking: Certain species of the
polka-dotted bug are threatened and nearly extinct in the Northeastern United States.

In 1985, the ladybug coccinella novemnotata was considered a very common insect. Its range that year is shown in the gray area of the map. The Lost Ladybug Project said that sightings east of the Mississippi have become extremely rare, as indicated by the black dots on the map. Image from The Lost Ladybug Project website.

Scientists say they don’t know precisely how or why the ladybug population has declined so rapidly in recent decades or what impact it will ultimately have on the ecosystem, but they’re asking the public to assist with their efforts to both search for the bug to document the population and to help revive the species by purchasing insects to set free.

“It’s a now or never,” said Leslie Ladd Allee, an entomologist from The Lost Ladybug Project, an affiliate of Cornell University. “If citizens act as scientists, they can help.”

If you see a ladybug, people are asked to simply upload a photo of it to The Lost Ladybug Project’s website or its app, called LLP. If you don’t see any on your own land, the project organizers consider that “zero” is still important to report. Searching can be done from May to October, with June, July and August being the best time frame. 

Over the last eight years, the project has gathered more than 40,000 pictures of different species of the ladybug from every state in the U.S. and parts of Canada and Mexico. The data is providing researchers with a more complete understanding of what’s going on. 

What they’re seeing is a rise in foreign species of the insect, such as the Asian ladybug, while some native species were feared to be eliminated, according to Dan Gilrein, an entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

“The New York state insect is the nine-spotted lady beetle — some people call these ladybugs which is fine, too — that was once common in the state, but no longer,” he said.

Researchers initially learned that the top three most common species of ladybugs, the nine-spotted, two-spotted and transverse, were no longer found on Long Island, or New York state or New England. 

Then in 2011, during a Lost Ladybug event sponsored by the Peconic Land Trust at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, volunteer participant Peter Priolo found a nine-spotted ladybug living happily on a sunflower. 

Kathy Kennedy, senior outreach manager for Peconic Land Trust, said that she’s been sponsoring a search as a citizen science activity every summer since then to connect people with nature and raise awareness about the decline in native species. 

A nine-spotted lady bug found in 2011 at Quail Hill Organic Farms in Amagansett, New York. The population of native ladybugs found at Quail Hill have been the source for The Lost Ladybug Project’s breeding program to repopulate coccinella novemnotata, a native ladybug species.

“The trust runs Quail Hill Farm organically, which we think helps to actively steward the home population of the nine-spotted variety of ladybugs,” Kennedy said.

Scientists with the ladybug project since 2011 have been raising offspring from the Amagansett colony in a lab in Ithaca. For the last few years, they’ve been selling the bugs to people in the Northeast. They hope to revive the species the same way wolf populations were reestablished in Yellowstone National Park. So far, 60 people have released ladybugs on Long Island through the program. There have been 16 locations on Long Island’s North Shore.

Families and youth groups can purchase ladybug restoration kits for $50 plus shipping from The Lost Ladybug Project. Allee said that the project loses money on each transaction but wants to keep the price affordable to encourage participation. 

The Lost Ladybug Project is supported by donations, sales and grants from the National Science Foundation. Allee said the project is underfunded, but the importance of the mission keeps the people involved motivated to continue.

“There are many kinds or species of lady beetles,” Gilrein said. “Some kinds of lady beetles are black with red spots, some have other colors like orange or yellow.” 

Some feed on aphids, some specialize on pests like mites, mealybugs or scale insects, he said. 

Many are considered beneficial, including the invasive Asian ladybug.

“Yes, they also consume aphids and other crop and garden pests,” Allee said. “Each species fills a different niche with somewhat different life cycle timing and diets.”

While some species of the insect are no longer common, the abundance of certain species, such as the seven-spotted lady beetle and the Asian ladybug concerns Allee. 

“We need to preserve the biodiversity of ladybug species,” she said. “The decline of the three lost ladybugs threatens the biodiversity of ladybugs and the stability of food webs.”

A seven-spotted lady bug eats aphids from the underside of an apple leaf. Photo from Laurie McBride

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

Suffolk County will look to address the ongoing issue of nitrogen pollution in surface and groundwater with an ambitious plan that will look to transition away from the reliance on cesspools and septic systems. 

The Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan, which would invest $4 billion to combat nitrogen pollution, would last more than 50 years and sets a blueprint for the county to replace hundreds of thousands of old and inadequate septic systems. 

A map detailing the phases of the proposed project. Images from Suffolk County. Click for full view.

The plan sets a goal for the county to eliminate 253,000 cesspools and septic systems by replacing them with new nitrogen reducing systems or by connecting them to existing sewers. According to Suffolk health officials, approximately 74 percent of the county remains unsewered, so individual residences and businesses rely on antiquated onsite wastewater disposal systems. Studies show that about 70 percent of the nitrogen input to local bays comes from approximately 360,000 cesspools and septic systems.

“Scientists have warned that continued reliance on primitive wastewater disposal systems is a mounting threat to both our environment and our economy,” said Dr. James Tomarken, Suffolk health commissioner. “Now, for the first time, there is a long-term plan to diminish nitrogen pollution and put Suffolk County on a path to cleaner, healthier water resources.”

The SWP has highlighted more than 190 individual watershed areas in Suffolk County and established goals and recommendations for reducing nitrogen inputs into each area. If those goals are met, health officials said it will begin to reverse the decline in water quality within 10 years and bring it back to a more pristine condition.

To get that process started, officials said the county will use more than $500 million in already allocated grant sources toward the replacement of 10,000 cesspools and septic systems and expand connections to sewer systems over the next four years as part of the first phase of the plan. 

“This plan represents the first meaningful strategy to address legacy septic nitrogen pollution since countywide sewering objectives were abandoned some four decades ago,” Walter Dawydiak, director of Environmental Quality for Suffolk County, said. “In those four decades, we learned a great deal about how toxic excess nitrogen is to the ecosystem. However, we consistently failed to solve the single largest environmental health problems of our generation. Finally, we have a response plan that will restore our ecosystems and protect our drinking water.”

In the second phase of the plan, which would begin 2024, the county would look to eliminate more than 177,000 cesspools and septic systems near shorelines and high priority areas. It also recommends a requirement that cesspools and septic systems be replaced with new technology when properties change hands, or when those cesspools and septic systems fail. Officials estimate that the requirement could increase the number of cesspools eliminated from 1,000 to more than 5,000 per year. 

The third phase of the SWP will tackle all other priority areas during a 15-year period. The fourth and final phase would address the remaining areas of the county beginning in 2068.

Currently, county grants of up to $20,000 are available for residents who qualify and wish to replace their cesspool. There is also an additional state grant of up to $10,000, which can mean a total of up to $30,000. As of July 1, Suffolk County residents who voluntarily decide to replace their cesspools will need to replace them with a system consisting of a septic tank and leaching pool at a minimum, according to previous reporting by TBR News Media. Contractors will need to register the system with the Department of Health Services.

The SWP will undergo a detailed review by the county’s Council on Environmental Quality and will include an environmental impact statement which is expected sometime in mid-August, according to officials. From there, a 30-day comment period will begin, with two public hearings being scheduled.

EMBRACING THE SEASON

Gerard Romano of Port Jefferson Station snapped this beautiful photo on Aug. 3. He writes, ‘The last few weeks I have seen many butterflies, and today there was a large monarch pollinating the blossoms at Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson. I set the camera’s shutter to 6 frames a second and attempted to capture the monarch in full flight and managed to get this close.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com

Above, Cayla Rosenhagen, Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) and Iris Rosenhagen pose for a selfie. Photo by Kyle Barr

Walking along Cedar Beach Aug. 2, one child’s foot scuffed along something that wasn’t rock or sand. Lifting it out, Sean Hoag and his father Benjamin looked down and saw a small straw. Sean sticks it in his bucket. After walking around for 10 minutes, his small bucket is nearly full to the brim with everything from pieces of plastic to cigarettes to bottle caps.

Mermaid Mist thanks Sean Hoag for cleaning up the beach. Photo by Kyle Barr

Over two days, young people like Sean helped dig out just under 8,000 pieces of litter from Cedar Beach, according to Cayla and Iris Rosenhagen, two 14-year-old twins from Selden who helped start the beach cleanup they dubbed Beach Bucket Brigade.

From when they were around 10 years old, the girls would strike out on their own to do cleanups at their local parks and beaches, but on Aug. 2 and 3, the environmentally-minded sisters took it to the next level, hosting their own Beach Bucket Brigade to help clear Mount Sinai’s premier town beach of garbage and debris. They had planned the event for little more than two months ago.

“We really love wildlife. We’ve always been interested in conservation,” said Cayla. “We’ve been interested in beach cleanups in the past, and we’ve done some ourselves, so we wanted to find a way to reach other community members.”

Both Rosenhagen sisters were involved in all parts of the project, from collecting garbage to showing a breakdown of all the trash they collected after the fact.

“Wherever we go here, there’s litter everywhere,” Iris said. “So, it’s really a beautification project, to help the environment and help the animals.” 

The 14-year-old pointed out that just in the first few minutes of holding their event, they already had many families walking around doing their part, adding, “So it’s not just us.”

The girls reached out to Town of Brookhaven town officials to help get everything set, including Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who said she was more than happy to oblige.

Participants walk along Cedar Beach picking up debris. Photo by Kyle Barr

“This was all on their own, and they met with Councilman [Kevin LaValle (R-Selden)] with their own agenda, their own meeting,” Bonner said. “They designed everything, all on their own.”

From a young age, the Rosenhagen twins have been infatuated with nature, especially animals, and among those, especially birds. Their mother, Raina, said before the girls could talk, they would make animal noises instead.

“They had the idea, and I just said run with it,” she said. “They took a chance on it, and we’re very pleasantly surprised it’s been well received.” 

Within a few minutes of searching, participants were already back to the main tent, handing over buckets full of debris and trash. For each bucket of trash they returned, they were given a raffle ticket in which they could win any number of ecologically-sourced and recycled toys and products. In addition to the buckets, each bucketeer was given a bingo card, where they could strike out a patch for each different type of material they found on the beach.

The day was meant to incentivize and make enjoyable the act of taking care of one’s surroundings. Local mermaid actors, Mist and Marina, came to Cedar Beach to wish the cleanup well and give “mermaid kisses and starfish wishes” to the young people who helped clean the beach.

Making taking care of the beach fun is especially important, Iris said, as she pointed out approximately 8 million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans each year, while items like plastic straws and other plastic items are either ingested by marine life or otherwise harm them by being caught in gills or other parts of sea creatures.

Participants walk along Cedar Beach picking up debris. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Friday, Aug. 2, around 60 volunteers collected 3,827 pieces of litter, a majority of which was plastic, glass and cigarette butts. The following day, volunteers collected 3,885 pieces of litter, even more of which was plastic but also a heavier amount of paper products.

The sisters’ dad, Craig, said his daughters have managed to make him even more environmentally-minded than he already was, and have even volunteered to help set up another beach cleanup at Sunken Meadow State Park for him and his company.

“Most of this is just homegrown,” the father said. “They just care so much about the animals and, obviously, the planet.”

This is only the beginning for the Beach Bucket Brigade, with them already advertising additional cleanups at the beach Aug. 29 with what’s called the Beach Bucket Brigade’s Books at the Beach that involves a story time for young kids under the age of 10 then heading out to again clean the beach of litter.

“In your head, you know there’s something you can do,” Iris said.

Stock photo

By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Axel Carlson

Wishful thinking is part of our lives. As a guide to our hopes, it often is realized and that might mean a happy marriage, a successful occupation and a healthy mind and body.  

But reality often thwarts these ideals and desires. This may be through our faults as well as by bad luck. Scientists hope for success when exploring the unknown, but they are taught not to trust wishful thinking.

In my fields of genetics and biology I have witnessed wishful thinking when science is applied to practical ends. The tobacco industry used wishful thinking for over 50 years, denying that tobacco smoke caused cancers, emphysema and heart disease. They blamed instead an unhealthy lifestyle, an unhealthy work environment or stress itself.  

Similarly, nuclear reactor companies used wishful thinking (and still do) to minimize or deny hazards of radiation except at very high doses of exposure. Most geneticists use a linear relation of dose received to gene mutations produced. They have based this on dozens of peer-reviewed publications. Wishful thinking by those who deny harm to a population from low doses of radiation include a belief that at worst small doses of radiation lead to resistance of radiation or that small doses of radiation are negated by strengthening the immune system to repair any damage done to the DNA.  

In our generation wishful thinking has appeared in discussions of severe and more numerous instances of climate change. Here, opponents of ecological response by international treaty argue that such changes are just normal responses to Earth’s cycles of warming and cooling leading to ice ages or long arid climate or that unpredictable ocean currents might shift and bring about these changing weather patterns.  

Critics of government regulations downplay the discharge of waste into rivers, lakes and oceans, and they use wishful thinking in their arguments, claiming “nature repairs itself” whether it is chopped down forests, over farmed land, open pit mining, fracking for natural gas or lands saturated with pesticides and herbicides. They call scientists raising alarm “tree huggers.”  

It would be a wonderful world if everything we did had no harmful long-lasting unintended consequences of what we do. Wishful thinking saves money and effort to prevent toxic products from entering the environment. It allows abusers to create erosion from bad practices clearing land for agriculture. It allows the discharging of massive quantities of carbon dioxide, believing a dwindling ecosystem will sop up the atmospheric carbon dioxide, producing luxuriant plant growth with massive emissions of oxygen. 

What scientists know is that environments are more complex, and we can disturb it with bad consequences for both local and global environments. The needs of 7 billion people can create substantial changes to Earth and we (thanks to wishful thinking) tend to be unaware or choose to deny such bad outcomes.   

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

A peek into the closed garden along Terryville Road, currently covered in weeds. Photo by Kyle Barr

Overgrown with weeds, the lone park on Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station looks forsaken. Where students once grew plants for harvest, now the only thing cultivated there are weeds.

A peek into the closed garden along Terryville Road, currently covered in weeds. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though that could change, if local civic leaders manage to get the community involved.

“One day, I said to myself, maybe we can get this going again,” Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association said.

The community garden, as it’s known, is owned by the Comsewogue school district, though it has been unused for years, according to Pitti.

The civic has asked community members for aid in repairing the garden, located just north of St. Gerard Majella Church on the other side of the street. The garden already contains an existing greenhouse, planter boxes, a gazebo and shed, though they have been unused for several years.

Susan Casali, associate superintendent at Comsewogue, said the property had been taken care of in the past by the Comsewogue Youth Center for years, but suddenly ceased operations several years ago. She added the district is looking forward to having the community revitalize the small patch of greenery along Terryville Road.

“The school district is very excited to have the community revitalize the garden and we have spoken to Sal and Ed about what we can do to help make the project a success and beautify the community,” she said.

Pitti and the civic are looking for a rotating cast of aid, with the civic president saying he did not wish for “the same five people to be doing the work every two weeks.”

The garden has been mowed enough to keep the grass from getting too long, but vines currently strangle the garden’s surrounding fence. On the inside, the greenhouse stands intact along with flower boxes, but those have similarly been surrounded by weeds.

Ed Garboski, the vice president of the civic, posted to the Comsewogue Community Group Facebook page asking if any community members would be interested in volunteering. Jennifer Dzvonar, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said she would look into ways her group could help, while Rob DeStefano, school district board member, said he would look into getting Cub Scout Pack 354 families involved in aiding the project. Other community members mentioned getting local Girl Scout troops on board as well.

While Garboski expects they will gather enough interest and volunteers for the initial cleanup, what they truly require is people dedicated to weekly maintenance.

“Our future hope is to create a location our kids can use for school-related activities of all capacities, as well as a place our senior community members may relax,” Garboski said.

Once the project is up and running, Pitti said they could potentially donate the food they produce to local churches for soup kitchens or other such outreach programs.

Those who are interested in assisting in the project can visit the civic’s website at www.PJSTCA.org and send an email with one’s information and availability.

Tree graffiti damages trees in Avalon Park. Photo by Donna Deedy

When Avalon Park & Preserve on Harbor Road in St. James and Stony Brook first opened in 2001, it welcomed on average 50 to 550 people each week. Today, during the peak seasons of spring and fall, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people frequent the 140-acre preserve on a weekly basis, and its popularity has become the source of a problem: protecting the integrity of the place. 

Ducklings found in Avalon park. Photo by Donna Deedy

People are carving initials into trees, walking off trails and otherwise damaging habitats.

The park is trying to find ways to instill lessons on park etiquette without becoming too obtrusive. The task, though, according to Park Director Katharine Griffiths, has become more complicated with the rising popularity of Instagram and its geo-location features. 

Foot traffic has spiked over the last five to seven years, Griffiths said, just as the phone app’s use has increased.

“We don’t do publicity or have a social media presence,” she said. People are sharing photos of themselves at the park and certain social media posts, she noticed, seem to invite trouble.

After people climbed on top an art installation on site, she said, in violation of one of the preserve’s only posted rules, other people saw the image and tried the same antic. 

In talking with other park directors, Griffiths has found that they are experiencing similar concerns with social media.

To address the problem, Griffiths is looking at the efforts of a nationwide campaign called Leave No Trace, developed by the Center for Outdoor Ethics, a nonprofit organization that is raising public awareness on how to preserve and enjoy the outdoors. 

Nine out of 10 people are uninformed about the impact they have on their environment, the center’s website states. The organization has developed seven principles that people should adopt to minimize their impact. The guidelines were founded for back-country excursions, but the center states that the approaches can be easily adapted to any park setting. Griffiths agrees.

The ideas are mainly common sense:  Properly dispose of waste, respect wildlife, be considerate of other visitors. Other principles are more nuanced and need to be more widely practiced.

Leave what you find/avoid damaging trees and plants

A major concern at Avalon centers on bark damage caused by people carving their names or initials into trees. Trees along the boardwalk at the park’s main entrance on Harbor Road in St. James at the Stony Brook Mill Pond are badly scarred. Some tree species are now suffering from disease. Griffiths said it is unlikely that the tree graffiti caused the problem. 

“But it certainly stresses trees and doesn’t help,” she said.

The park has hired park rangers 24/7, which has helped curb the issue. The problem, however, continues. 

Many of the couples who have carved their initials in hearts, Griffiths notes, are likely no longer together. The tree damage, she said, is permanent.

Stay on trails 

Avalon has carefully created meandering trails through five different wildlife habitats populated entirely with native fauna. The trails are an important part of its successful land management strategy. Straying off those trails damages vegetation or disturbs communities of organisms beyond recovery. Wildlife ecosystems are often interdependent, and when you harm one species it can cause a chain reaction. 

A Black Egret found in Avalon park. Photo by Donna Deedy

Avalon has had to incorporate fencing to rope off the nesting areas of woodland ducks, for instance, because people were venturing off its boardwalk at the park’s main entrance into the pond’s edge. Griffiths said that the park’s managers prefer to leave nature unobstructed, but the fence became essential to protect the habitat.

Dogs are welcomed at Avalon, but dog owners need to be mindful of picking up waste and keeping the animals on a leash. Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket, another privately owned public parkland, asks dog owners to be diligent. 

“People like that we allow pets, but its a constant challenge,” said Robert Reuter, president of Frank Melville Memorial Park. 

Respect wildlife

The center states that people should quietly observe wildlife from a distance. Do not disturb animals or plants, they say, “just to get a better look.”

Tree graffiti damages trees in Avalon Park. Photo by Donna Deedy

Lucille Betti-Nash from Four Harbors Audubon Society recommends investing in binoculars or a super-zoom camera, sometimes called a bridge camera, if people want close-up views of wildlife.

Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service park in Shirley, is dealing with similar issues. Park Director Ann Marie Chapman said that she is also trying to better educate the public. 

“The wildlife on Long Island have very few places left to go,” she said. “We should keep these public parklands pristine.”

Like Griffiths, she hopes people adopt good outdoor habits.

Carry in, carry out

“Remember we are guests,” Chapman said. “Just like when you’re visiting someone else’s home, you need to respect the surroundings when you visit parkland.” 

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said that he visits and walks through Avalon once a month and has never seen a speck of garbage.

“I love the fact that there’s no garbage cans,” he said. “It forces people to carry out any trash they bring in.”

He’s looking forward to the park’s 70-acre expansion. When completed sometime next year, the park’s trails will extend to the Long Island Sound waterfront. 

“The place is heaven on earth,” Trotta said. 

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