Environment & Nature

A night heron sits at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The intersection of Main Street and Old Field Road in Setauket marks the entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Park. The horseshoe-shaped park, completed in 1937 includes extensive plantings, a simulated gristmill, a magnificent view of Conscience Bay and the cottage of the last Setauket miller Everett Hawkins. From the park there is an entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation Sanctuary grounds with its extensive nature paths.

This past month the park and sanctuary suffered a great deal of damage from the storm that devastated a narrow area on the North Shore from Smithtown to Port Jefferson. The park has worked hard to clear debris and bring the park back to its beautiful condition. Please explore the park this month and consider becoming a member of the Friends of the Park. 

The Setauket Millpond was a center of commerce for the community from the time it was settled in 1655 until early in the 20th century. It is easy to imagine almost any time in Setauket history while in the park. Looking out over the milldam, Conscience Bay reflects the 8,000 years the Native Americans lived here before the English settlers came to Setauket. The mill tells the story of the farmer grinding grain in the 1700s. The restored barn remembers the horse “Smokey” and speaks of a 19th-century horse and carriage. The stone bridge relates how an immigrant great-grandson came to Setauket and gave it an image of the countryside of rural England and Europe with a park.

Just after dawn the Setauket Mill Pond shimmers with morning mist and reflects the early morning sky and the trees that partly surround it. Walking along the path in the Frank Melville Memorial Park, the only sounds, except for the occasional car going by, are the birds in the trees and the ducks in the pond. They contrast with the greens, browns and grays of early morning. The contemplative surroundings start the day with the beauty of God’s creation and give perspective to the rest of the day.

The following prose was written by the author:

Birdsong
Spring, the park at morning.
Woodpeckers rat-a-tat, the woosh of wings — Canadian geese, a soft grouse call is heard.
Birdsong, first near and then far, across the pond.
Birdsong left and right.
A gentle breeze turns the pond to silver, moving patterns of dark and light.
The background sound of water flowing over the milldam and into the bay.
Pairs of mallards glide slowly across the pond.
The trumpet call of geese announces flight as they rise from the pond and fly across the milldam, across the march and into the bay.
Trees surround the pond with patterns of greens of every shade.
Dark evergreens and climbing vines.
Bright green beech and silver-green sycamore.
Patches of white dogwood adding depth and contrast.
A heron glides effortlessly across the surface of the pond, rises and disappears into the cover of a black birch tree.
I am overwhelmed by gentle sounds and contrasting scenery, by muted colors in every shade and texture.
Blue-white sky and blue-green water.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

Still digging out from early August wind, rain storm that rocked parts of greater Three Village community

John Morgan, above, from Impact Environmental, clears branches from the entrance of the park at Trustees Park in Poquott. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In the aftermath of the powerful early-morning storm that hit the North Shore on Aug. 4, organizations and volunteers, like Impact Environmental and Ward Melville High School ice hockey students, are battling fallen trees and branches as they cleanup areas like Trustees Park in Poquott.

The volunteers began cutting trees, picking up debris and clearing areas of the park around 9 a.m. on Friday. Few people have used the park for recreational purposes since the storm, as broken trees, branches and other debris still blocked the park’s main entrance. Nick Pisano, a Ward Melville High School student, said he “doubts that [they] could finish [cleaning] today.”

Impact environmental worker Frank DeVivo agreed with Pisano.

“There’s a lot in there and we have several people [helping clear the debris], so we’ll be able to get it done,” DeVivo said. “It’s just a matter of time and organization.”

Two weeks ago, on Aug. 13, Poquott residents voiced their concerns regarding how storm-damaged areas of the village were being cleared following the storm. But clearing those areas, including the park, was difficult. Clearing the park alone cost Impact Environmental around $8,000.

“The village has no money to do any of the prep work,” Richard Parrish, president and CEO of Impact Environmental said. “So we made a decision that Impact Environmental would pay [to clear the park].” This is something we do to help out the village,” Parrish said.

Earlier Friday, the debris extended several feet in front of the park’s entrance. According to Impact Environmental worker John Morgan, the volunteers started their day fighting to clear branches and twigs to clear the area in front of the entrance. Morgan also said he helped clear an additional path by the entrance. With the path cleared, Morgan and the other volunteers could continue picking up debris, including pieces of a 30 to 35 foot birch tree that broke off during the storm.

Morgan cut the broken tree into several pieces, making it easier to clear the main entrance area. Morgan, like Parrish and the other volunteers, was happy to help the community, saying that making others happy made him happy. DeVivo had a similar response regarding clearing the park’s entranceway.

“This is a really well-used park, and they enjoy the ability to get to their tennis courts, and they enjoy the ability to take nice walks,” DeVivo said. “So it’s good to be able to come out here and help out, and help clean it up and get it back to functionality.”

Mayor Delores Parrish also joined the volunteers, later in the day, to help clean and move trees and other debris from the park. According to Richard Parrish, the mayor was bringing a larger vehicle to help transport debris to a landfill.

Deer rutting season means more of the animals running out on local roads. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Belle Terre residents are up in arms, or ready to take up arms, over a village government proposal to allow bow hunting as a means of reducing the community’s deer population.

The village board of trustees set a public hearing for Sept. 15 to consider a law amendment that would allow the hunting, a notion that has split the community, with some calling for more “humane” approaches to the issue.

The deer population, in the absence of predators, has increased such that “people are having multiple deer sleeping on their lawns at night and eating all their vegetation,” and making driving in the area more treacherous, Trustee Bob Sandak said in a phone interview this week. “We’ve had an outcry from the population to please do something.”

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which manages the state’s deer, the Long Island deer population has been steadily increasing since the 1980s. It calls hunting, or culling deer “still the most efficient and cost-effective way to stabilize or reduce deer populations and alleviate associated damages to private property and natural resources.”

But calling bow hunting “a very cruel way to kill,” resident Natalie Brett said she worried an injured deer would wander into her yard and die.

Brett said she has noticed the deer population increase and the animals eat her plants, but “I don’t have a problem; I just go with it.”

She said she wants to see a more “humane” approach to the deer, using sterilization to prevent breeding, tick control to prevent Lyme disease, or stop signs to slow down traffic in deer crossing areas.

But her main concern is whether allowing bow hunting will “open the door” to other types of hunting in a residential area.

“I didn’t move to a state hunting ground and put up a sign, ‘You shouldn’t hunt,’” Brett said in a phone interview. “I don’t want my neighbor, if he’s 150 feet from my house, having a hunter come in.”

Sandak said any Belle Terre bow hunting would be subject to the same state regulations as in any other community. Among those regulations are minimum distances from homes where hunting can take place, ruling out smaller properties. Sandak estimated a property would have to be three acres or more to legally support bow hunting.

The DEC said fertility control is not as effective as hunting in managing deer populations and does not “quickly reduce deer-human conflicts.” And Sandak said he would not necessarily count sterilization as a more humane method, as it puts deer under “unnatural stress” and could leave the animal open to infection.

It is also costly to pay for anesthetic and a marksman to hit the deer, and “doesn’t reduce the size of the herd because you’re not taking any of the herd away, as hunting would do,” the village trustee said.

Dori Scofield, founder of Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station, confirmed that sterilization is a costly and tricky method that unnaturally stresses out the deer, but she also said she has at least six veterinarians who would donate time to sterilize deer, and the village is small enough to monitor such a program.

Scofield, a Stony Brook resident, also said in an email that having fewer deer would not reduce Lyme disease cases, as other animals like mice and raccoons also carry ticks. Furthermore, killing deer would not necessarily reduce that population, because it would leave more food for deer from neighboring areas to move in and motivate them to procreate.

“Ideally I would like them to leave the deer be,” Scofield said. “We need to protect the animals in our towns.”

Belle Terre is not the only area considering deer hunting as a means to control the population. The Town of Huntington is mulling a similar proposal for parts of Eaton’s Neck and Asharoken, and residents there are equally split.

Scofield said people who move to a wooded area should expect wildlife.

“I have deer in Stony Brook and, yes, they eat my shrubs and I sip my tea and watch them,” she said. “Then I feed them some horse feed and we all go about our day.”

Sandak said he is leaning toward allowing bow hunting in the village because “I don’t have strong feelings against it” and he wants to vote for what the majority of the community wants.

The Sept. 15 public hearing on the amendment to Belle Terre’s code chapter on hunting and firearms starts at 8 p.m. in the Belle Terre Community Center on Cliff Road.

“I would like everyone to come to the public meeting and express themselves,” Sandak said.

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Norman Samuels and Herb Mones clean up the Greenway Trail.

By Karen Jillian

“It’s not a surprise that many people are calling the Three Villages ‘Long Island’s Bicycling Capital!’” So writes Herb Mones regarding the Setauket to Port Jefferson Greenway Trail. Mones, a member of the Friends of the Greenway, says “the Greenway Trail [protected open space constructed for conservation and recreational purposes] is a great community resource. Its second phase finished, it has now become “the longest paved greenway in Suffolk County — 3 ½ miles long.”

The Greenway Trail runs between Limroy Lane in East Setauket and the New York State Department of Transportation parking lot in Port Jefferson Station, near Route 112 at Hallock Avenue.

Due to the overwhelming amount of positive results associated with the path, Mones has decided to “engage the community in a program to enhance and beautify the Greenway through monthly cleanups and having the public adopt and maintain portions of the trail.”

A biker enjoys a section of the Greenway Trail.
A biker enjoys a section of the Greenway Trail.

A cleanup was held this past Saturday morning. The 28 volunteers were ably assisted by Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) who believes that “the development of the Greenway has been nothing but a positive asset and resource.”

“When I speak to people in my district about the trail, they mention they enjoy that it connects communities. At the beginning, when a new idea like this is introduced, there is always a level of fear from some in the community until people see what an asset it can be, especially once people use it,” said Cartright.

Local resident and volunteer, Norm Samuels, echoed her sentiments. “People are generally very happy with the trail and use it in many different ways:  walking, running, biking and dog walking. During the right weather I go cross-country skiing! Only complaint some have: no port-o-potty.”

Another hardworking elected official at Saturday’s cleanup was Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).An obvious environmental enthusiast, she said, “I was always excited about this idea of a trail. From social community, health and environmental  perspectives, we are all better for it. The good use of the trail drives out any bad use.”

The volunteers report that “bad use” consists of the occasional strewn trash, which is a light amount. As for people being worried about kids hanging out, non-usage of the trail or any negatives, the trail, has, instead, brought many positive attributes. Usage of the trail is very high. Most people have cleaned up after themselves and their dogs and traffic on Upper Sheep Pasture has slowed down dramatically because of the enhanced safety crossings and alerting of drivers to crosswalks.

But the best may be yet to come. This trail, which began as an acquired stretch of property in the 1960s and had originally been pitched as a bypass to 25A, had, in the 1990s become part of an alternative plan to become a Greenbelt Trail. Today the Friends of the Greenway are working with North Shore Rails to Trails “in an effort to extend the path from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River, which would create a 15-mile ribbon of bike paths,” according to Mones.  Not bad for something that started out over 50 years ago as a paper road for a vehicular bypass!

The trail, though, needs the community for it to survive and be maintained. The next clean up is scheduled for Sept. 26 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. If you would like more information on being a part of this growing community that uses the trail or would like to volunteer, you can call the Three Village Community Trust’s Friends of the Greenway at 631-689-0225.

Test results show grounds are sound

David Badanes speaks at a Northport-East Northport school board meeting last week. Photo by Eric Santiago

By Eric Santiago

The soil at Norwood Avenue Elementary School is safe for children, an environmental engineer told the Northport-East Northport school board last week.

“I would expect concentrations in my own backyard would be very similar to what we found on the school property,” said Paul Lageraaen, the environmental services department manager for H2M architects + engineers.

Last month, the school board tasked Lageraaen’s firm with analyzing the school grounds to determine if the area had been contaminated with hazardous chemicals out of “an abundance of caution, and in response to low levels of contaminants found in the soil of a neighboring farming property proposed to be developed into a winery,” according to a statement from Superintendent Robert Banzer. Dust from a property that is proposed to be developed into a vineyard next to the school may have fallen on school grounds while the land was being cleared out, officials said. Lageraaen presented the firm’s findings at Wednesday night’s school board meeting.

Of the dozens of herbicides, metals and pesticides tested, only one was discovered at noteworthy concentrations. Arsenic, a common ingredient in pesticides before it was banned in 1991, was found at moderate levels in the northwest corner of the school. The proposed vineyard property is along the school’s eastern border.

This was not a great concern to Lageraaen.

H2M tested its soil samples against New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation Regulations Part 375. According to these regulations, residential areas should have a maximum arsenic concentration of 16 parts per million (PPM). The sample from that corner of the school was analyzed at 17 PPM. This was one of 16 samples taken from across the school grounds. The rest all tested below this level.

Lageraaen pointed out that regulations are not an actual limit.

“It’s defined as an objective,” he said. “It’s not a hard and fast action level.” This is because there isn’t a definitive consensus for what that level should be. For example, New Jersey regulations say that 19 PPM should be the maximum concentration for residential areas.

But the key finding Lageraaen cited was that were was no sign that soil around the school had been moved, disturbed or contaminated by a dangerous chemical.

“The soils that are at Norwood school are the same soils that have been there for 60 years,” he said. “If I found an area where suddenly arsenic or some other compound was at 100 PPM and everything else was at 15 PPM, then you have to be concerned.”

Once the presentation was finished, David Badanes, vice president of the school board, asked the central question for the board.

“I guess the bottom line question is this: Are the children that are going to play at Norwood safe?”

“Yes,” said Lageraaen, who also coaches community soccer at the Northport fields. “I have no qualms about returning there to coach or my kids playing on those fields.”

In closing out the discussion, board President Andrew Rapiejko said that the board has been in contact with the town about the proposed vineyard, and encouraged concerned community members to do the same.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Fred Giachetti, who owns the property and wants to develop it into a vineyard, stressed that he has contacted local officials and experts to ensure the property is managed responsibly.

“I have never been irresponsible and reckless in my whole life,” he said. “I’m a graduate of Northport High School. My wife and I have been trying to do something that is bringing back the agrarian traditions of our community because we have a great interest in it and a family history. We think it’s a wonderful idea — instead of building more McMansions or condos or townhomes, we could try and bring something back to the community that we’ve lost.”

The flowers of a Japanese pagoda tree. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

I love it when people send me photos of unknown plants. Sometimes I know right off what it is and can help them with added information. Sometimes it takes some research, but it’s always fun. Recently, a gardening friend sent me some photos of trees covered in fragrant white flowers in mid-August.

Trees flowering this late in the season are unusual. Most flowering trees bloom in spring, bringing a profusion of color to that season. Some are followed by edible fruit, others by seed pods. Some, especially those grown for their showy flowers, are sterile. So, what was this beautiful tree? The tree in question was a Japanese pagoda tree.

A Japanese pagoda tree in bloom along Route 112 in Coram. Photo by Ellen Barcel
A Japanese pagoda tree in bloom along Route 112 in Coram. Photo by Ellen Barcel

This tree, also known as the Chinese scholar tree, is a native a China, grown in the United States as a specimen tree. Styphnolobium japonica (also known as Sophora japonica) is in the pea family, Fabaceae, but unlike others in the family, is not a nitrogen-fixing tree. It’s a deciduous tree, easily growing up to 60 or more feet tall. It does well in a wide range of soil pH conditions, ranging from 4.5 (extremely acidic) to 8, which is alkaline, so, ideal for Long Island’s acidic soil.

Colorado State Cooperative Extension Service notes that the tree is hardy in zones 4 to 8 (Long Island is zone 7) and prefers a sunny location. The rapidly growing tree tolerates city conditions (i.e., pollution), meaning that it will do well planted along roadsides. It tolerates heat and drought conditions, making it ideal for Long Island with its occasional drought conditions. They describe the flowers as 10- to 15-inch panicles of “creamy-white, pea-like flowers” that survive for about a month. The flowers are followed by pods that “resemble strings of beads,” similar to garden peas. The pods are filled with yellow seeds.

My friend noted how many bees (and other insects) were flying around the tree, visiting the fragrant flowers. The tree provides light shade when young, but a mature tree produces dense shade. Keep this in mind when selecting the tree. Are you looking for dappled shade or dense shade?

Other plants in the pea family include the golden chain tree (see my column of June 18, this year), clover, sweet peas, lupine, beans and, of course, edible garden peas.

Next week we’ll talk about another late summer flowering tree, the mimosa.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

The Greenway Trail runs between Port Jefferson Station and East Setauket. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The Friends of the Greenway is hosting another cleanup event for the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail on Saturday, Aug. 29, from 8 to 10 a.m.

Volunteers who want to help mow, prune, clip and beautify the community hiking and biking trail should bring gloves, trash bags, clippers, mowers, brooms or shovels along with any gardening tools. The helpers can choose an area on the trail to beautify and head straight to work — but please contact Charlie McAteer from Friends of the Greenway at cfmcateer@gmail.com to report the location — or they can report to one of the trailheads for an assigned task.

Participants can also help distribute information to trail visitors at either the Port Jefferson Station end or the Setauket end of the trail.

The Greenway Trail runs between Limroy Lane in East Setauket and the New York State Department of Transportation parking lot in Port Jefferson Station, near Route 112 at Hallock Avenue.

To take part in maintaining the trail apart from the cleanup event, contact McAteer to find out other ways to help.

The dangerous reptile sits on a table at Thursday's press conference. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

A 25-pound alligator snapping turtle was found this past weekend in the stream opposite the Smithtown Bull on Route 25 in Smithtown, with enough power to bite off someone’s finger or toe, officials said.

“We’re just lucky the gentleman who found it knew how to handle it, and knew to contact us,” said Roy Gross, chief of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “This reptile is capable of taking toes and part of a foot clean off. People are constantly walking by this area barefoot, including children.”

A father and son, both Suffolk County residents, found the reptile while they were preparing to go kayaking, officials said. Gross said that this freshwater reptile is not indigenous to this area, and is mainly found from eastern Texas to the Florida panhandle.

SPCA Chief Roy Gross handles the alligator snapping turtle on Thursday, Aug. 27. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
SPCA Chief Roy Gross handles the alligator snapping turtle on Thursday, Aug. 27. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Gross and Dan Losquadro, highway superintendent for Brookhaven Town, both said that this is another example of people dumping reptiles in public places, creating a serious threat and risk to the public.

“This is a dangerous animal. We don’t want animals abandoned. But we don’t want to endanger the public,” Losquadro said.

According to Losquadro, the turtle will be transported to the Holtsville Ecology Center, where it will be given shelter and a veterinarian will make sure it is physically healthy, and identify what gender it is.

The ecology center is a refuge for all abandoned animals. Gross said that over the years there have been many incidents of animals being released to the public, and that someone guilty of this can be faced with multiple charges and prosecuted.

Gross suspected this was originally someone’s pet, but stressed that this is not the kind of pet you want to have.

“I can’t imagine curled up on the couch watching television with this guy,” Gross said.

When transporting the turtle to the SPCA’s office, he said the turtle was able to make a hole in the container he was being kept in, and was trying to escape.

The Girl Scouts of Suffolk County and the Little Scientists club joined county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Heritage Trust, the Long Island Native Plant Initiative and members of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension to plant local native species in Anker’s Educational Agriculture Support Initiative pilot garden Tuesday at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.

The Girl Scouts, alongside their younger counterparts from the Little Scientists club, got down in the dirt and planted several native plants, including various types of milkweed which attract monarch butterflies and other native pollinators to the area.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, monarch butterflies and other native pollinators to Long Island have decreased in numbers by more than 80 percent in the past two decades. Native bee populations are also on the decline. With this decline in native pollinators, Anker hopes to educate people about the importance of native plants and pollinators in the environment.

But before members of the LINPI and Cornell Cooperative Extension helped the Girl Scouts and Little Scientists plant flowers and plants in the pilot garden, Anker gathered the children and tested their knowledge on the importance of native plants and pollinators.

Michelle Skoblicki created the Little Scientists club four years ago. The program caters to children from pre-K to fifth grade, and its goal, according to Skoblicki, is to provide these kids with a means to expand their knowledge about science through hands-on activities, literature and art.

Skoblicki recently taught the kids about life cycles using butterflies, and hopes to release the butterflies they raised in the pilot garden by the end of the week.

“We were hoping to have them ready for the garden but they were still in their chrysalises,” Skoblicki said.

Members of the Girl Scouts also helped plant native plants in the garden; and Maris Lynch, who is involved in her third event as a Girl Scout, was simply happy to help.

The launch was the first event for Girl Scouts Analynn Bisiani and Lindsey Galligan. Bisiani said she was happy to participate and was having fun.

“I would definitely do this again,” Bisiani said.

Galligan was one of several kids who grasped Anker’s message.

“Plant are … a very important part of our community,” Galligan said. “They help insects which help us — and that’s that.”

Anker was excited for the launch and hopes to continue spreading the word about the importance of pollinators and the native plants they need.

“When your kids, when your grandkids or great grandkids are here at the park, I want them to experience everything that I’m experiencing now,” the county legislator said. “If we don’t do something now, we’ll loose this forever.”

Officials celebrate the installation of a new septic system in Nesconset. Photo from Bellone’s office

Nineteen households won, but one winner on Laura Court in Nesconset was the first to reap the benefits.

The county installed its first advanced on-site septic system last Thursday, Aug. 20, via the Suffolk County Advanced Septic Pilot Program Lottery as part of the Reclaim Our Water initiative to improve water quality, restore natural storm barriers and implement on-site wastewater treatment systems. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called it a significant step in improving the quality of water on Long Island.

“This pilot program will demonstrate the benefits of protecting one of our great natural resources and will provide individual homeowners as well as the rest of Suffolk County an opportunity to improve both the environment of their homes as well as that of Suffolk County,” he said.

The 19 systems were donated by four national manufacturers: Hydro-Action Industries, BUSSE Green Technologies, Norweco and Orenco Systems. The advanced wastewater treatment systems are valued at up to $15,000 per system.

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