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Heritage Park

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People of all ages enjoy Heritage Park for its sizable number of amenities. Photo by Kyle Barr

A flash of green among the gray, the short hills that roll along the side of Route 25A in Mount Sinai are strewn with people. Men and women jog, kids scream and laugh playing baseball and soccer. Children run up those green hills, then fall and let themselves tumble down the gentle slopes. 

A mockup of what the park would look like upon completion. Image from Lori Baldassare

Some developers have talked about creating a “town square” for the hamlet of Mount Sinai, but for lovers of Heritage Park, there already is one.

“There it is, Heritage Park — it’s one of the most beautiful parks of its kind that I’ve ever seen,” said New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). “It came together from the cooperation of so many wonderful people willing to pull together.”

Nearly 20 years ago, local residents became heated about plans to develop the site for the home improvement giant, Home Depot. The site, which was once a pumpkin farm, joined with other properties like the Davis Peach Farm in an agrarian setting. Decades of home development turned the area into small strips of business sandwiched in between residential neighborhoods.

Heritage Park went in the opposite direction. A successful agreement between Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven meant the county bought the site by using the Community Greenways Fund, while the town built the park amenities like the baseball and soccer fields. The nonprofit organization Heritage Trust continues to operate the park, along with Brookhaven town. The trust hosts multiple carnivals and other events throughout the year as a means of raising money. The trust also rents out the Heritage Center for public events. 

But more than that, the trust has become a lightning rod for Mount Sinai, and even well beyond. 

The history of Heritage

Very few dreams become reality, at least to specific designs.

But original plans for Heritage Park, known also as The Wedge, and mockups bear a striking resemblance to how the park has shaped up 20 years after those original designs. 

Town workers start work on the park back in the early 2000s. Photo from Lori Baldassare

Fred Drewes, a longtime park volunteer and Mount Sinai resident, originally came to the Mount Sinai Civic Association back in 1988 with the idea of a hamlet study, and the idea was resurrected in the late 1990s, co-chaired with then civic president Lori Baldassare. Within those designs, he proposed a park, one that would become the focal point for the North Shore that had once been McGovern Sod Farm. 

This was during a time when the rural past of the hamlet was being laid over with brick and concrete. One housing development after another changed the tenor of Mount Sinai. The last few farms on the south side of Route 25A started to close and look to sell their property, and a few big names started eyeing those parcels. 

“The development pattern of western Long Island was going to make it impossible for Mount Sinai to escape being visually damaged and swallowed up,” Englebright said.

Among the legal action taking place at the location of the Davis Peach Farm, one of those maligned developments was a potential Home Depot on a plot of land that had been a pumpkin and sod farm.

At the southern tip of The Wedge, a space of only about one acre that had commercial zoning, representatives of Home Depot approached the property owners who were looking to sell. The rest of the property was zoned residential.

Baldassare, who has spent the past 20 years as the on-and-off again Heritage Trust president, has long been in the trenches over the fate of The Wedge. Home Depot would end up the line in the sand for Mount Sinai residents. As civic president, she asked Drewes to revive his hamlet study and plan for a park. She also was a leader among residents campaigning against the home supply chain, getting people to tie green ribbons around their mailboxes all across the hamlet to show their support.

“We ended up competing for them with land,” Baldassare said. “We had thousands of ribbons up all over the place.”

The next task was to make sure, as Englebright put it, “the same thing didn’t come back in some virulent form.”

In 1999, the civic authored a proposal for Suffolk County to buy the parkland. Of course, in government, nothing is ever that simple.

A state, a county, a town, a civic

Rare is it that all levels of government from the top down work together on such a large project as was Heritage Park, and while it wasn’t all easy, the results stand.

Volunteers help construct the gardens at Heritage Park. Photo from Lori Baldassare

Still, the process was grueling at times. Both Brookhaven town and the county wanted active recreation, namely baseball and soccer fields. The town, especially, wasn’t into designing passive space with ingredients of a walking path and playground, but mostly a space for, as Drewes called it, “free play.” He remembers the then town parks commissioner mentioning he would never use such a space for jogging, so close as it was to two major roads.

“The way the greenways program worked is they needed a partner to maintain it,” Baldassare said. “They weren’t willing to develop it, they needed a partner, and the county said they wanted a municipal partner, but the town was not willing to do all the things we wanted in the park.”

Before they were willing to sign on to the county, the town also wanted to have a civic partner.

The assemblyman came into the picture, agreeing with the civic about needing to maintain the heritage of the area. He said he reached out to his colleagues at the state, county and town levels to help open those conversations. 

One difficulty they encountered was finding funds to buy the particular section of The Wedge that was still zoned for commercial.

The property was owned by Vinny Bove, a local entrepreneur and developer. Englebright recalled him as a “rather rugged individual,” and didn’t expect that he would be such a kindred spirit. Speaking with him, he found Bove was more than willing to keep the property up for sale until the state could gather the funds for the civic to buy the property.

“His welcoming attitude and his willingness to embark on the journey of uncertainty that was worthy of the community’s heritage, made it possible,” Englebright said.

The smiley face made from tulips is erected nearly every year. Photo from Lori Baldassare

Of course, the next issue was that the civic had to be legally able to accept state funds, needing to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, categorized as a land trust. It was then the Heritage Trust was formed, which incorporated in 2000.

The past trust president and now treasurer recalls much haggling over which municipality would fork over the funds for which part of the project. After the section was designated for park, it would be years before the first shovels finally entered the ground in 2003 when it all started to come together.

The county would buy most of the land, with one section now owned by the trust. The town would build the walking paths and baseball and soccer fields, and town lawnmowers continue to maintain the space.

“All the voices were speaking of the green space,” Englebright said. “Just amazing loving work the parks department of the town invested itself into.”

20 years, 20 more

From a few baseball fields and passive green, the park grew. More state assembly grants and loads of private fundraising helped gather the money to build the barnlike structure that has become the Heritage Center, the main headquarters not just for the trust but also for  the civic groups and a gathering spot for other local groups and events.

Amy Satchell was a volunteer since almost the beginning, helping to fundraise for the center and installation of the playground, which went up years after the park was fully built. Every year around the holidays Satchell goes to help decorate the center and the large pine tree just outside its doors.

Heritage Center at Heritage Park is used by the trust for its events. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Many people had an idea that it would be the town center, the town square of Mount Sinai,” she said. “You can see now after all this time all the wonderful amenities that are provided.”

Drewes has seen more and more amenities come to the park, including his own idea for the now-annual parade of flags, a display of flags from nations across the world on the Avenue of America, a stretch of the walkway that encloses the park.

The longtime Mount Sinai resident, now 83, is retired. He can lean back on a park bench and look at all the work he and his civic compatriots have helped accomplish.

“I’m gratified and extremely happy that what we as citizens proposed and volunteers worked tirelessly to create is valued by so many people,” he said.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she has seen the effectiveness of the project and has proposed a similar agreement for a spot in Middle Island. The location is the site of a now-demolished K-Mart across from Artist Lake along Middle Country Road. 

“It has inspired me to take the model and replicate it,” Anker said.

Baldassare said that as the park reaches its 20th year, very few things remain as part of the original design, with only a splash pad and a few other odds and ends left. For the trust, it means the end of an era, and the start of a new one.

Fundraising has always been a difficulty, with the trust having an annual budget of around $300,000, the members have to fundraise what they don’t get through sponsorships and grants almost all by themselves. These funds also help to pay the several part-time staffers the trust needs for its ongoing efforts.

“People think it must be taxpayer dollars that take care of the center, and it’s not, we always have to raise money,” Satchell said.

They host events every year like the spring and summer carnivals, but those are dependent on weather. The trust treasurer recalled one year that was incredibly lean because of adverse weather conditions during one of its main fundraising events.

The park always requires more volunteers and is looking for more ideas to take the park through the next 20 years. 

Though many who visit the park assume that it must have always been there, for the trust and its volunteers, that can only be a good thing.

“When people say that, for them, the park has always been there, that’s fantastic,” Satchell said. “We want it to be that anchor in the community that people think it’s always been there. I do hope it always will be.”

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Bon Jovi and Journey tribute band Bon Journey belt out classic rock hits. Photo by Kyle Barr

Long Hair, ripped pants, t-shirts drenched in sweat. Like an event straight out of the 80’s, crowds gathered at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Friday, Aug. 16 for the Free Family Fun Day and concert, featuring Bon Jovi and Journey tribute band Bon Journey. The event was sponsored by the Heritage Trust and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai)

Celebrating its 20thyear, the park played host to yoga sessions, bounce castles, martial arts demonstrations, crafts and magic shows all throughout the afternoon and early evening. Later, with a field crowded with people, Bon Journey belted out renditions of classic Bon Jovi hits like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Journey songs like “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

In honor of Memorial Day, Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park hosted its annual Parade of Flags, while VFW’s in Rocky Point and Sound Beach took the time May 27 to memorialize those servicemen and servicewomen lost throughout the years.

Joe Cognitore, the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 in Rocky Point, read the names of 204 people who have died in the service of the U.S., with each set of names said to the sound of a bell. He said the number of names he reads every Memorial Day grows every year.

Over in Sound Beach, the Sound Beach Civic, along with members of the Sound Beach Fire Department, hosted their own ceremony at the Sound Beach Veterans Memorial. Flags flew at half mast, but veterans of each branch of service, from the U.S. Military, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, helped raise each of the flags high to the bright, sunny sky. Members of the Miller Place Boy Scouts of America Troop 204 played an echo version of taps.

“Flowers, memorials and flags at half staff, and the sad notes of taps, as meaningful as they are, they are not enough,” Cognitore said. What we really must do to honor their sacrifice is to live what they died for.”

 

The Heritage Center Trust hosted its 11th annual tree lighting Dec. 2 at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, drawing a crowd of several hundred who were ready to celebrate the breakout of the Christmas season.

The Mount Sinai Middle School Jazz Choir led the crowd in classic Christmas carols before fire trucks of the Mount Sinai Fire Department drove in with lights flashing, delivering Santa himself to the expectant crowd.

After the tree lighting, attendees were able to eat fresh baked cookies and kids had the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap and take pictures.

The annual tree lighting at Heritage Park has been a part of the Mount Sinai community since 2007, but Jaime Baldassare, who volunteers for the center trust, said the lighting was a staple in the community before the Heritage Center Trust was established, first being hosted at the post office and later at the Mount Sinai Fire Department building.

The smell of zeppoles and sound of laughter could be heard for miles. The Mount Sinai Heritage Trust hosted its annual Fall Into Fun Carnival this past weekend at Heritage Park, featuring rides, food and good times.

Brookhaven unveiled new electric vehicle charging stations at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Aug. 21. Photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town is hoping to inspire residents to ditch the gas pump for a greener alternative.

The town unveiled two new electric vehicle charging stations at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Aug. 21, paid for through a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and rebates from Long Island Power Authority. The stations cost $22,000 each, and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) pledged that the town will install additional charging stations at various, strategically located town facilities during the next year, either through grants or using town funds. Members of the public with electric or hybrid vehicles are permitted to utilize the stations for a minimal charge, according to Romaine, just to cover the cost of the electricity.  The two stations can combine to give juice to four cars at a time.

“There’s a societal benefit in that these cars don’t produce smog, or pollution or hydrocarbons,” Romaine said. “The air quality on Long Island has consistently been rated as very poor. This is an opportunity for us to try to convince people who are thinking about electric to go electric.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Supervisor Ed Romaine, and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright unveil new electric vehicle charging stations at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Aug. 21. Photo by Alex Petroski

Romaine said the town currently owns one fully electric vehicle and about five hybrids in its fleet, and added the plan is to replace “aged out” high mileage cars with more hybrids and full electric vehicles during the coming year.

“I can’t tell you how excited and proud I am that these charging stations are in my council district in Mount Sinai at the Heritage Park,” Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “Very often, in deciding to make that move in that direction you have to think in your mind, ‘Well where can I charge my car?’ If these are centrally located in convenient places, it’s a win for the consumer and it’s a win for the environment and the residents that live here.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who represents the neighboring 1st District, said she was proud to join her colleagues in the unveiling Tuesday.

“This is clearly a step in the right direction for the Town of Brookhaven as we move to reduce our emissions here in the town,” she said.

Similar stations to the ones placed at Heritage Park already exist at Moriches Bay Recreation Center and the town Parks Administration building in Centereach. The installs are part of a five-year capital plan spearheaded by Romaine called the Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Initiative, aimed to achieve a 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the town by 2020.

“We want to encourage the use of hybrids and electric vehicles,” the supervisor said.

Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ will be screened at the Crab Meadow Beach Drive-In on July 19.

By Sabrina Petroski

Mark your calendars! With the beautiful summer weather comes another season of free outdoor movie screenings for families on the North Shore. Parks, beaches and other outdoor spaces will magically transform into theaters, presenting a mix of animated films, current releases and family favorites.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and the Town of Huntington recently announced this year’s schedule for its annual Movies on the Lawn event. Now in its 14th year, four movies, handpicked by the councilman himself, will be shown over the course of the summer at various locations in the town for free.  

“We are excited to bring you another great lineup of movies this summer. Pack your picnic dinner, blankets and lawn chairs and enjoy this summer’s lineup,” said Cuthbertson. 

This year’s program includes “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” at Heckscher Park, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington on June 25 (rain date July 16); “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” at Crab Meadow Beach Drive-In, Waterside Ave., Northport on Thursday, July 5 (rain date July 31); Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” at Crab Meadow Beach Drive-In on Thursday, July 19 (rain date July 31); and “Despicable Me 3” at Peter Nelson Park, Oakwood Road, Huntington on Aug. 13 (rain date is Aug. 20).  

A sandcastle contest and basketball shoot off will be held on July 19 before the movie. All movies will begin at dusk. 

According to Cuthbertson’s office, no alcohol is allowed at any of the events. If a showing is rained out, the event will be moved to the listed rain date and be shown indoors at Walt Whitman High School, 301 West Hills Road in Huntington Station at 7:30 p.m.

For more information about the movies, including updates, visit http://huntingtonny.gov/moviesonthelawn2018 or call 631-351-3112. 

More free outdoor movie offerings:

•The St. James Chamber of Commerce will host a Movie Night at Deepwells Farm County Park, located at the corner of Route 25A and Moriches Road, St. James on July 17, with “Coco” and Aug. 21 (updated) with “Breaking Legs.” Movies begin at 7:45 p.m. Call 631-584-8510 or visit www.stjameschamber.org for updates.

•Grumman Memorial Park, Route 25, Calverton will screen “Top Gun” on Aug. 3 at 8:30 p.m. Call 631-727-574 or visit www.riverheadrecreation.net for further info.

•Hoyt Farm Park Preserve, 200 New Hwy., Commack will screen “Beauty and the Beast” on Aug. 3 at 8:30 p.m. (rain date is Aug. 10). Alternate street parking is available for nonresidents of Smithtown. For more information, call 631-543-7804 or visit www.smithtowninfo.com.

•North Shore Heritage Park, 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, Mount Sinai, resumes its annual Movies in the Moonlight series on July 6 with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” July 20 with “The Incredibles” and Aug. 17 with “Toy Story 3.” Sponsored by Heritage Trust, all movies begin at dusk (approximately 8:15 p.m. Bring a blanket or chair. Movie refreshments will be available at The Shack concession. No rain dates. Questions? Visit www.msheritagetrust.org, or call 631-509-0882.

•The Village of Port Jefferson’s Movies on the Harbor returns to the Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park, 101 East Broadway, Port Jefferson on July 10 with “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory,” July 17 with “Wonder,” July 24 with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (updated),  July 31 with “Cars 3”  and Aug. 7 with “Coco.” Movies begin at dusk and the rain date is the next evening. For additional info, call 631-473-4724 or visit www.portjeff.com.

•Movies Under the Stars returns to Smith Haven Mall’s Lifestyle Village (located next to Dick’s Sporting Goods), Lake Grove, with a screening of “Moana” on Aug. 6, “Justice League” on Aug. 13, “Coco” on Aug. 20 and “A Wrinkle in Time” on Aug. 27. Call 631-724-1433 or visit www.simon.com for updates.

WHAT A RIDE! 

Elisa Hendrey of Mount Sinai visited the Heritage Park’s annual Fling into Spring Carnival last Sunday and captured this stunning image. She writes, ‘[It seems as if] the ride, called Pharaoh’s Fury, is sailing up into the deep blue sky. A huge crowd turned out to enjoy the event and the warm weather.’

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

Hundreds headed to Heritage Park in Mount Sinai April 20-22 for the annual Fling Into Spring carnival.

As the sunshine and warmer temperatures washed over the park, kids smiled, rode rides, ate ice cream and played games with excitement throughout the weekend.

The money raised from the event helps nonprofit Heritage Trust fund other events throughout the year. The park is currently raising money for a splash pad. A country line dancing fundraising event is scheduled for April 26 at the Heritage Center from 7:30-10:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.

Heritage Trust and community members say if a cell tower were to come to Mount Sinai, they’d prefer to see it behind the Heritage Center at the park. Photo by Tom Carbone

A beloved local park is gauging the reception of a potential development.

Members of Heritage Trust in Mount Sinai are currently evaluating a proposal made by a Verizon representative last month to build a cellphone tower on the property.

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage.”

— Lori Baldassare

According to Lori Baldassare, the nonprofit’s president, the group was contacted by Verizon Wireless consultant, Robert Monteleone, a few weeks before the trust’s annual meeting in early February.

Without a design or any specific plan yet in place, Baldassare said Verizon’s bare-bones pitch is to install a tower somewhere on a 0.7-acre stretch of property at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road to help eliminate a cellular “dead zone” in the area, where weak signals and dropped calls can create safety issues. More and more cell towers have popped up across the state in recent years as less residents hold onto their landlines, instead relying almost completely on their cellphones. Phone carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, are required to make sure dangerous coverage gaps are filled.

Baldassare said she and other Heritage members requested more information from Monteleone as to how obtrusive the proposed tower would be and exactly where the structure might be located on the scenic site, which features a playground, baseball field, walking path, gardens, a plant maze and mini-golf course.

“Do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

— Ann Becker

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage,” Baldassare said, hoping that the tower be built behind the Heritage Center building, where there are already tall poles and transformers installed. “We certainly don’t want it in front of our building.”

But a cell tower at Heritage would come with an added benefit, Baldassare said.

“Part of the reason we’re considering it is that the income generated from the cell tower — roughly between $2,500 and $3,500 a month — would go directly to Heritage Trust to help support our programs, activities and efforts at the park,” she said. “It would certainly be a help to us as we don’t get taxpayer money, and rely on donations.”

She said she was “cautiously pursuing” the idea.

“We’re trying to weigh out the pros and cons based on what comes back to us from Verizon,” Baldassare said. “We’re doing our due diligence.”

The topic came up during a March 5 Mount Sinai Civic Association meeting. Civic Association President Ann Becker led the discussion, raising questions and making clear to the public that no application for the cellphone tower has been submitted.

“Nothing has happened yet, but it’s now on our radar,” Becker said. “I guess the downside is, do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

“This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community.”

— John Leonard

Vice President Brad Arrington said there are alternative models and size options available when it comes to towers.“Would there be room on a cellphone tower to share and cooperate with other providers?” asked park volunteer Fred Drewes, referring to the service of not just Verizon customers.

Becker said there is.

“If Verizon builds it and, say, Sprint rents from Verizon by paying an additional fee, there would be that additional benefit,” she said. “One tower, more money, less construction.”

Mount Sinai resident John Leonard said via Facebook that he would support the cell tower as long as the revenue went to the Heritage Trust, which he commended for being a 100 percent volunteer board.

“They have done amazing things,” Leonard said. “This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community. It’ll help this group continue doing great things for our region.”

But not all residents seem to be on board.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Robyn Blumstein said. “What an eyesore for a beautiful park.”