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Heritage Park

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Fred Drewes holds up Christmas books he reads to children around the holidays. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Although he is retired, Fred Drewes’ plate is still pretty full.

The former biology and environmental science professor at Suffolk County Community College now has an entire park to tend to.

In 1988, Drewes was granted a sabbatical to do a hamlet study of Mount Sinai. He projected what he would like the community to look like in 25 years and suggested a central locale for a park.

“It was an ‘Ivory Tower’ idea,” he said. “I thought a central park would help bring people together and provide a focal point for community activities. Bonding with neighbors and friends and being refreshed by a park environment.”

With the help of Lori Baldassare, the then Mount Sinai Civic Association president, among other members, the civic purchased a 0.8-acre property with a New York State grant in 1999, and in 2001, Suffolk County purchased the adjoining 17.2 acres with the help of the newly formed Heritage Trust, a nonprofit, of which Baldassare is the president.

“He was very passionate about the community,” Baldassare said of Drewes. “Fred had a vision and he followed through on it.”

Although he was on a bike trip to 44 countries around the world at the time that the piece of property was purchased, Drewes dedicated his trip to the cause, and it was dubbed a Ride for a Park. While in his travels, he frequently wrote letters to a third-grade class and had pieces published to share his story, while also spreading word of the soon-to-be new park and help raise funds.

Fred Drewes plants a vegetable garden. Photo from Fred Drewes
Fred Drewes plants a vegetable garden. Photo from Fred Drewes

Not long after his return, in 2003, the park began to be developed, and from there, Drewes’ vision began to come to life.

An adventurer, the 79-year-old Mount Sinai resident traveled by bike, walked and camped on a seven-month backpacking trip around the world, hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and traveled around East Africa and South Africa, even living in Tanzania for two years while teaching at a college there, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

“I enjoy experiencing and seeing the landscapes of different places and enjoy those views,” he said. “I also enjoy the interactions that I had with people along the way.”

Those feelings fueled his desire to create similar experiences within his park, he said. Working closely on the landscape, he created a scenic environment and a Heritage Center that houses local activities for families and children.

“On any given day during the week, you probably would find him at the park,” Baldassare said. “You have to look at the park to see; his contributions certainly make a difference at Heritage Park. Without them, it wouldn’t be the same place.”

Bob Koch, of Koch Tree Services in Mount Sinai, said Drewes originally got him involved in working on the landscaping to help amend soil issues with the ground being so compacted that it made it difficult for plants to grow. Koch installed the Christmas tree that’s decorated every year, worked on the Parade of Flags event by planting each state’s tree along the Avenue of America and recently planted some young cherry trees down part of the pathways.

“Most of the things that I’ve done was Fred’s mind-set, and I was the muscle behind it,” Koch said. “It was his ideas and thank God we have him, because he prevented a Home Depot from going there and now it’s a beautiful walking park.”

Along with the Parade of Flags event, Drewes also reads “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to children around the holidays while they eat cookies and sip hot cocoa. He also works with the Boys’ and Girls’ Scouts and local Eagle Scouts with different projects at Heritage.

Koch said Drewes went to a lot of local businesses to get them involved in the park, which helped further integrate the community to its new central location. He planted many native trees like sugar maple, serviceberry, river bitch, dogwood, white pine and red oak and made a smiley face out of daffodils that emerges in the spring.

“I see his eyes light up when it’s filled with people using the park on a summer day,” Koch said. “I think we’re all very fortunate. For me, he was the guy that was instrumental in getting me involved in the park. I love him dearly. I’m appreciative for him getting me involved.”

To show his appreciation, Koch installed a Quercus bicolor tree with a plaque underneath it that reads: “Fred Drewes, a visionary who has tirelessly worked to make this park a reality.”

Drewes said the mission of Heritage Trust is to preserve the flavor of the area’s rural heritage and feels rewarded that people are complimentary and gracious in their comments about the work he’s done to preserve and showcase it.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback — it makes us want to continue our efforts in the park,” he said. “I relish and always enjoy my volunteer work up there because it gives me the opportunity to have a hobby, because I enjoy working on the landscaping that I do there, but also to see people enjoying the park; the walking paths; the landscape; the pass of activity to have quiet moments with family to have kids run around in a free-spirited way,” Drewes said. “I spend a lot of time and effort at the park and I’m gratified that I’m able to do that still at my age.”

The fourth day was a charm for the Heritage Trust Center’s carnival. After three days of wet and windy weather, residents of Miller Place, Mount Sinai and neighboring communities finally gathered at Heritage Park to enjoy the fourth and final day of the center’s seventh annual carnival on Sunday, Oct. 4.

Children and adults alike enjoyed rides like Pharaoh’s Fury, Tornado, the Swinger and others, and could choose between savory foods and sweet surprises like zeppole and deep fried Oreos, Greek food and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. Those who stayed into the evening hours were also treated to fireworks, which were pushed from Friday to Sunday.

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.”

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Participants dump buckets of ice water over their heads during last year’s event. File photo by Erika Karp

This challenge can’t get much colder, and for the second year in a row, Mount Sinai is looking for help icing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Last year, 500 participants from all over the North Shore came out to Heritage Park in Mount Sinai for the Ride for Life Ice ALS challenge, to raise money to help spread awareness and find a cure for ALS.

The disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing motor neurons to degenerate. People with the disease lose control over their muscles, leaving them unable to speak, eat, move or breathe on their own.

With events like the one at Heritage Park, people all over the world have brought attention to ALS, and on Aug. 26, Mount Sinai is doing it again.

Game booths, face painting, balloon twisting, dunk tanks and pie tosses are just a few of the events listed for Wednesday’s ice bucket challenge. Admission to the event, which begins at 5 p.m., is free, and T-shirts and other ALS awareness items will be available for purchase. Hot dogs, cotton candy and soda will also be available, as well as a limited supply of buckets.

To help support the cause, create a team or collect pledges for the Big Dump, which will begin promptly at 7 p.m.

“Last year, more than 500 people participated in the challenge and I expect to see a bigger crowd this year,” Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said in a press release. “We need all the help we can get from friends, family, businesses, sports teams and more to come together so we can find a cure for ALS.”

Paper pledge forms can be found on www.alsrideforlife.org. In the event of bad weather, a rain date is scheduled for Sept. 2. Email RFLoffice21@aol.com or go to Facebook’s ALS Ride for Life page for more information.

By Talia Amorosano

Despite 95-degree weather, car enthusiasts young and old gathered at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai on Saturday to get up close and personal with old and new local cars.

Cars displayed were in pristine condition and many had been refurbished or restored. Attendees were able to view parts of the cars that they wouldn’t normally see, as many owners propped the trunks and hoods open to enable full viewing. Because some cars were accompanied by informative signs with origin stories, or were staged with time-period-appropriate memorabilia, the car show was surely a learning experience even for already knowledgeable viewers.

They buzz and flutter and they are disappearing from Long Island’s environment. Pollinators are on the decline on the Island and nationwide.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, native pollinators such as Monarch butterflies have decreased in numbers by more than 80 percent in the past two decades. Native bee populations, among other indigenous pollinator species, are also on the decline, which can put local farms at risk as less pollinators mean less pollination.

But Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) hopes to help Long Island farmers combat the population decline with her new Educational Agriculture Support Initiative, which aims to increase the amount of native plant species on Long Island, starting with the Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.

“The history of Heritage Park is [that] we wanted to take care of the rural character and the heritage of the area,” Lori Baldassare, president of Heritage Trust, said about how the park got involved with Anker’s initiative. According to Baldassare, Anker has a long history with the park so “it just seemed like a natural place to do [a] … demonstration garden.”

Honeybees, above, which are native to Europe are efficient pollen collectors and honey producers but they are not effective pollinators because pollen sticks onto their legs so well. They are one of the few bee species that live in a hive. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Honeybees, above, which are native to Europe are efficient pollen collectors and honey producers but they are not effective pollinators because pollen sticks onto their legs so well. They are one of the few bee species that live in a hive. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Although Anker has teamed up with Heritage Trust, Girl Scouts of Suffolk County, Long Island Native Plant Initiative, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District to help create a pilot native plant species garden at Heritage Park, she said that it will take more than the individuals from these organizations to bring back local pollinator species.

“I need people to participate,” she said. “I need people to understand that this is really important. If we don’t preserve [the environment] nobody else will.”

According to Polly Weigand, executive director of the plant initiative and senior soil district technician for the conservation district, the team is trying to provide the pilot garden with various native plant species, including native grasses, which will attract and sustain pollinators throughout the year. While these plants are neither flowering nor the most visually appealing, Weigand said the grasses provide a place for insects to lay their eggs and shelter during the winter months.

While some invasive or nonnative plants, like butterfly bush, can provide food for native butterflies, it isn’t sufficient for these insects to lay their eggs or seek shelter. Native insects evolve with the native plants in the area. The evolution allows these creatures to use a plant for shelter and sustenance. Although some invasive or nonnative plants can provide food and habitat for these small creatures, this is not always the case.

“Plants have a little chemical warfare that they play with the species that are going to [prey] on them,” Weigand said. “They put out toxins to try to keep the animal from eating the leaves.”

It takes several generations before an insect can successfully utilize the foreign plants for their life cycle.

But according to Robin Simmen, community horticulture specialist for the cooperative extension, and Laura Klahre, beekeeper and owner of Blossom Meadow in Cutchogue, in addition to the lack of suitable plants, the use of pesticides and lack of suitable habitat for Long Island pollinators are some of the many factors contributing to the decline in the native species.

Polly Weigand, left, of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and county Legislator Sarah Anker, right, discuss native plant species for Anker’s Educational Agriculture Support Initiative pilot garden at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Polly Weigand, left, of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and county Legislator Sarah Anker, right, discuss native plant species for Anker’s Educational Agriculture Support Initiative pilot garden at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“We used to just think that we would get these free pollination services from nature,” Klahre said. “But in the future that may not be the case because there aren’t enough flowers around [and] we have so many pesticides.”

Pesticides that target unwanted pests, like ticks, are also detrimental to native bees, which live underground.

When the toxins seep into an area in close proximity to native insects, some eventually develop dementia.

Klahre also mentioned the lack of open space as an issue as it jeopardizes the livelihood of the bugs.

While Klahre does not know by how much the native bee population has declined, she said they are struggling to maintain their populations just like their European counterpart, the honeybee. According to Klahre there are about 4,000 different bee species nationwide and 450 different species in New York state alone.

Unlike docile native bees like mining, mason or sweat bees, honeybees are not efficient pollen collectors.

Native bees are among the best pollinators for a variety of plant species. The native bees also yield higher quality and longer lasting fruits like apples or cherries, which can have a thicker outer skin; a thicker skin means that the fruits have a longer shelf life than those pollinated by honeybees.

Although Anker said farms across Long Island are affected by the decline in pollinator species as they are forced to import pollinating bees to the locations, Klahre said she only saw a disruption in growing produce with home gardeners.

Monarch butterflies, above, fly from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Long Island, which serves as their breeding range during the summer. Monarchs born during the summer only live three to five weeks in comparison to overwintering adult Monarchs that can live up to nine months. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Monarch butterflies, above, fly from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Long Island, which serves as their breeding range during the summer. Monarchs born during the summer only live three to five weeks in comparison to overwintering adult Monarchs that can live up to nine months. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Pollinators like bees usually have a route that they go on to collect pollen and nectar before returning to their habitat. If these insects are not accustomed or attracted to a homeowner’s property, it is unlikely that the pollinator will visit the area. This is especially the case for homeowners who have a simple grass lawn.

While some grasses help native insects, a bare lawn does not provide a pollinator with the necessary sources of food in order to survive.

But Anker’s goal is to educate the community about the best way to attract and support these insects using appropriate native plant species like milkweed, among others.

“I’m actually looking to have [pilot gardens] throughout Suffolk County,” Anker said in regards to her initiative.

The plant initiative has selected the types of native plants that will go into Anker’s pilot garden, which could be designed and constructed toward the end of August.

Individuals like Klahre believe there is enough time to heal the environment and help increase native pollinators like bees, but she does acknowledge the reality of having little to no pollinators.

“In China there are some areas that are so polluted that they actually have people that are going from flower to flower in orchards with feathers moving the pollen,” Klahre said. “I just never want us to get to that point.”

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