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John McQuaid

John McQuaid, president of the NRSP Foundation; Wayne Horsley, Long Island regional state park director; Charlie Reichert; Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta; and Brian Foley, Long Island regional director of state parks, hold a check for $1 million donation. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Fort Salonga philanthropist hopes if he can help to build central infrastructure of a park, others will come and help out. 

Charlie Reichert, owner of IGA Supermarkets, will donate $1 million to New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation through his nonprofit, Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation, for complete renovation of the Nissequogue River State Park’s administrative offices. He ceremoniously handed the first check to Wayne Horsley, Long Island’s regional director of state parks, Nov. 2.

“I am hoping this donation jump starts the park, that we can really get going,” Reichert said. “If people see that a private citizen is putting money into the park, maybe there will be other private citizens or corporations to put money into the park and get things going.” 

The Fort Salonga resident said he envisions the park as a green space where, one day, there could be sports fields and concerts for residents’ recreation. His donation will kick-start a makeover of the central building. 

Brian Foley, deputy regional director of the Long Island region for the state’s park system, said the $1 million donation will be used to completely overhaul the interior of the former World War I-era veterans memorial hospital. The first floor’s central waiting area will be enlarged and built to accommodate additional educational display cases, with reconstruction of the existing meeting hall and children’s playroom. The women’s and men’s bathrooms will be updated with the new addition of a family bathroom stall, according to Foley. 

“The first floor will be and stay almost exclusively devoted to the public,” he said. “That is the prime purpose of state parks.” 

The second floor of the building will be made into office space for state park employees on-site, according to Foley. Storage space will continue to be available for the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to enhance and beautify the park. 

“This money will bring us a long way to making this into a public building that everyone can be proud of,” Horsley said. 

Currently, the state is replacing the administrative building’s roof and straightening out the cupola, according to Horsley. Construction equipment is parked outside Building 40, on the former childcare center on the north side of the park’s main entrance, to begin abatement of the structure to make way for a new 25,000-square-foot headquarters for the state’s Department of
Environmental Conservation’s Division of Marine
Resource. Horsley said he expects the building to be torn down this winter into early spring 2019. 

“We are in this together to make this a premiere park in the state’s park system,” Horsley said. “As we all know, we have a long way to go, but we are well on our way.” 

John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park, and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said Charlie Reichert’s support through his foundation has been invaluable over the years as it also sponsors the spring and fall runs that raise funds for the park. 

“This community is forever indebted to you, the state is forever indebted to you because you have changed the course of history,” Trotta said.

Residents paddle along in the 2017 Regatta on the River at Nissequogue River State Park. Photo from Nissequogue River State Park Foundation

By Anthony Petriello 

Residents are gearing up to take to the Nissequogue River in kayaks, canoes and, for the first time ever, on paddleboards to witness and preserve its beauty.

Kings Park students have come together to plan the third annual Regatta on the River Aug. 11 to raise funds for the upkeep and improvement of Nissequogue River State Park. The event is sponsored by the Reichert family, owners of the Larkfield and Fort Salonga IGA supermarkets, and features a competitive 10-mile race starting at 11 a.m., followed by a leisurely 5-mile race at 11:30 a.m.

“Each year the regatta has grown and we look forward to another successful event this year,” said John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the park and its assets for future generations. 

Each year the regatta has grown and we look forward to another successful event this year.”

– John McQuaid

The foundation was created to work together with students to plan events and fundraisers to keep the park clean and up-to-date for local residents to enjoy.

Emily Dinan, Caleigh Lynch and Juliana Quigley are three co-presidents of the foundation’s student board who have worked together to organize this year’s event.

“The student board allows high school students like myself to get hands on experience in giving back to our community,” Lynch said, a student of Saint Anthony’s High School in Melville. “This experience is different than most others that are available for students our age, as we are given a great deal of responsibility in obtaining sponsors, filing permits, handing out fliers, etc.”

Under the guidance of McQuaid, the student board held meetings to organize the event by creating flyers to hang around town, filing the necessary permits and obtaining sponsors. The board also looked at what was and was not successful in previous regattas, and took those elements into account in planning this year’s event.

Dinan, who will be a senior at Kings Park High School this fall, said she is humbled by the opportunity that she and her other co-presidents have to generate positive attention for the park built on the former grounds of Kings Park Psychiatric Center.

In our own backyard, we have a recreational gem comparable to any of the parks in upstate New York and my wish is that our community takes full advantage of it.”

– Juliana Quigley

“This beautiful park doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” she said. “Of course we, the student board, want the regatta to be an even bigger hit than it’s been in the past, but the real goal is for people to see the beauty of the park and see what else it has to offer.”

Paddleboarders are welcome to take part in the regatta this year for the first time, after the committee received numerous inquiries from prior participants. The students hope the addition of paddleboards will attract even more residents and help further bolster the park’s rising popularity among Long Islanders. Quigley, who will be a senior at Kings Park High School this fall and third-generation resident, said she believes that Nissequogue River State Park rivals any other New York state park.

“Whether it was kayaking on the river or walking along the trails, my family has been able to fully utilize the various recreational purposes that this park serves.” she said. “In our own backyard, we have a recreational gem comparable to any of the parks in upstate New York and my wish is that our community takes full advantage of it.”

Registration for the 10-mile race costs from $45 to $60 per person, depending on watercraft type and whether a rental is needed. Cost of the 5-mile course starts at $25 increasing to $55. Adult spectators are asked for $10, while children age 10 and under are free. All proceeds from ticket sales will go directly to the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation for use in the park. Rain date is Aug. 12.

For more information on the regatta or to register to participate, visit www.ourstatepark.com/3rd-annual-regatta-on-the-river.

A map outlining the proposed location of the new DEC headquarters at Nissequogue River State Park. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Kings Park residents and community groups showed widespread support for a $40 million proposal for further development of Nissequogue River State Park but also voiced their reservations.

Tony Tanzi, president of Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said the group’s members came together prior to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Nov. 2 joint presentation to discuss the plan’s potential impacts.

“We look forward to being your partner in this whole endeavor and anything we could do to help, we certainly will.”

— Tony Tanzi

“Our entire board is fully on board with this,” Tanzi said to state officials at the presentation. “We are ecstatic that you are making this endeavor. We look forward to being your partner in this whole endeavor and anything we could do to help, we certainly will.”

John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, said the organization’s members have concerns about a new DEC building being constructed near the center of the park. There are still numerous empty buildings that need to be demolished without any time frame for doing so, he said, while the government is already looking to construct new structures. Yet, the group is in support of the plan, according to its president.

“The marina is a home run,” McQuaid said. “It’s a valuable improvement for the community.”

Other concerns were raised with regard to increased traffic that may be caused by moving the DEC’s headquarters to the area and whether it will fit into the overall vision for the park. Many pointed out the state still lacks a master plan to guide the future design and usage of the more than 500 acres.

“We are so excited about this project, but we know that you can work on this project along with working on a master plan at the same time,” Linda Henninger, president of Kings Park Civic Association, said. “We all know how important it is to have a master plan for the entirety of the park.” 

“It’s a valuable improvement for the community.”

— John McQuaid

Wayne Horsley, regional director for the state office of parks, admitted to “back stepping a little” on his previous agreement with residents to draw up a master plan, but claims his office doesn’t have the funds. A master plan recently commissioned by the state for Sunken Meadow State Park cost between $200,000 and $400,000.

“We will discuss it further, we are not adversarial on the issue,” the parks regional director said.

The Nissequogue River State Park Foundation countered by offering to pay up to half the cost of a master plan. The organization has hundreds of thousands in the bank, according to McQuaid, which they are ready and willing to smartly invest in the park’s future.

Horsley expressed concerns that a master plan could take two to three years, and that what exists now is a unique opportunity to work jointly with the DEC, which is providing the majority of the $40 million in funding.

“My message to the community is let’s jump on this while we can, I think it’s a big step forward,” Horsley said. “When I have an opportunity to get $40 million into the park, it’s a good thing. I think we should take advantage of it.”