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Suffolk County Parks

Legislator Kara Hahn visits challenges residents to visit a county park everyday in May as part of her effort to promote Suffolk's green spaces. Photo from Hahn's office

Suffolk residents may not realize it, but the county has enough parkland to explore for an entire 31-day month and then some. Making sure her constituents are fully aware of their outdoor options right in their own backyard has become a mission for Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).

Legislator Kara Hahn visits challenges residents to visit a county park everyday in May as part of her effort to promote Suffolk’s green spaces. Photo from Hahn’s office

She has been the chair of the Parks & Recreation Committee in Suffolk County since 2016, and upon getting started, said she was excited to start talking about parks. But Hahn didn’t realize how big of a job building awareness was going to be.

“Even in our neighborhood, there were people who had never been to Avalon [Park], people who had never been to the Greenway Trail,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that people didn’t know these things existed.”

In 2017 she kicked off her A Park a Day in May challenge, an initiative designed to get people out and about, visiting one of Suffolk’s dozens of parks to take a selfie and share on social media with the hashtag #APADIM. Hahn said even as the county’s parks chair, in researching and preparing for the now-annual challenge, she encounters green spaces she wasn’t aware of.

“When I became parks chair I said to all of my colleagues, ‘I want to tour all of the parks,’ thinking it was going to be so easy,” she said, adding she was totally mistaken. “It’s awesome.”

Legislator Kara Hahn visits challenges residents to visit a county park everyday in May as part of her effort to promote Suffolk’s green spaces. Photo from Hahn’s office

She said she and her family realized a couple of summers back, after taking a family trip to Cape Cod, they were traveling to enjoy experiences that were similar to what could be done back home.

“There’s so much here,” she said. “What we have here — there is no comparison anywhere else.”

Hahn admitted it would be impossible for her as a legislator to visit 31 different parks on 31 consecutive days, so the selfie’s she posts on a given day in May are sometimes taken previously and involve months of planning. She said getting out and visiting parks also affords her the opportunity to speak with constituents and gauge needs at certain parks, like monitoring ticks and funding for more benches.

In addition to her May initiative, Hahn also spearheaded a parks passport program last summer, which encourages kids to explore county parks and keep track of where they’ve been in a green, replica passport.

To see a full list of Suffolk green spaces and activities available at them — like kayaking, hiking and fishing to name a few — visit www.suffolkcountyny.gov/departments/parks/thingstodo.aspx.

More than 1,000 hours of community service put into gardens, mansion tours, live music and more

Members of the Centerport Garden Club volunteer their time to maintain the Vanderbilt's rose garden. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum.

One of Suffolk County’s museums leads by example in knowing the value of the proverb many hands make light work.

The Vanderbilt Museum, Mansion & Planetarium has been able to delight visitors with its scenic gardens and extensive programs thanks to the time put in by its roughly 135 year-round volunteers who have donated more than 1,000 hours in 2017.

“Volunteers are better than staff as they do work but don’t get paid,” Executive Director Lance Reinheimer said. “Their time is very valuable and it saves the museum a big expense each year.”

A visitor’s experience is shaped by the work of the museum’s volunteers from the minute they enter the estate. Volunteer gardeners designed and planted a garden near the property’s entrance at the request of the executive director. Master gardener Gloria Hall has taken over organizing a group formed by her late husband, Bill, that works on the property each Monday, during the growing season from May to October, helping in every aspect from planting and weeding to designing new features.

“Gloria has done a great job in carrying on the tradition of caring for our gardens,” Reinheimer said.

The gardening clubs involved have also helped design and create gardens that encircle the estate’s celebration tent on the Great Lawn, which overlooks the Long Island Sound. The director said it has added
visually to many of the weddings and special occasions happening on the grounds, anchoring the tent to make it feel like a permanent structure and blend into the property
.

Agnes Ward has spearheaded the Centerport Garden Club in donating its members time to  delicately handling  the Vanderbilt Estate rose garden outside of the planetarium.

“The gardeners really augment my ground staff,” the executive director said. “We’ve made great strides in beautifying the property in the last two years.”

Museum guests who take a tour of the historic Gold Coast mansion may be led around by a volunteer, as hundreds have by guide Ellen Mason who has volunteered at the Vanderbilt since May 2006. The retired school teacher said her passion for history keeps her coming back on Saturdays to share the experience with others.

“I’ve been asked over and over again to get on the payroll,” Mason said. “I refuse. I wanted to volunteer, I want to volunteer at something I love doing and it makes my spirit soar. I love the people who work there, it’s like a whole other family.”

It’s so welcoming that there’s even a former Vanderbilt employee who continues to come back and volunteer. The museum has several longtime volunteers who regularly give freely of their time including Rick Ellison, Mary McKell, Dale Spencer and Marianne Weeks, a
ccording to museum staff.

“There are so many people involved in that Suffolk institution — garden clubs, the living history program, all different types of work,” said Herb Mones, husband of museum trustee Gretchen Oldrin-Mones. “It’s really under the radar. I don’t think the larger community is fully aware of how much the volunteers impact the daily running of that institution that services tens of thousands of school kids each year.”

Once inside the mansion, visitors may be treated to live music played on the antique aeolian pipe organ played by volunteers Bill Caputi and Sheldon Cooper.

My feeling is that Long Island is a mecca for volunteerism,” Reinheimer said, in recognition how generous the museum’s volunteers have been. “Long Islanders give willingly to causes that are worthy.”

Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 70, Leg. Kara Hahn, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, members of Girl Scout Troop 3083, and Port Jeff Village Mayor Margot Garant during a June 1 press conference about Hahn's Passport Parks Program. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

There’s a wondrous world of nature to explore along the North Shore and beyond, and Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Parks are challenging local children to get out of their houses and discover the natural treasures of public open spaces.

Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 70 during a June 1 press conference about Leg. Hahn’s Passport Parks Program. Photo by Rita J. Egan

At a June 1 press conference held at Old Field Farm County Park in Stony Brook, Hahn introduced a new passport program that will combine exploring nature with a bit of technology. Suffolk Parks Commissioner Philip Berdolt, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant as well as representatives from Boy Scout Troop 70 and Girl Scout Troop 3083 were on hand to show their support.

“Many months in the making, this pilot program expands on my earlier legislation designed to showcase Suffolk County parks,” Hahn said. “One reason I am so excited about it is because now, thanks to cooperation from our state, town and village partners, we have expanded the pilot here in the 5th Legislative District to include all the parks in the district. That means we’re able to introduce children and their families to even more great places where they can go out and get in nature right in our own backyard.”

Hahn said her 2015 sponsored legislation that established a countywide Parks Passport Program created to encourage residents to visit parks focused solely on Suffolk County managed parkland, while the new expanded pilot program includes state, town and village public lands and open spaces in the 5th Legislative District, which covers the northwest section of the Brookhaven Town. Hahn’s hope is that in the near future the county will include all park organizations countywide in a passport program, too.

The legislator said the first step in the park adventure is to obtain passport books that are available at her Port Jefferson office at 306 Main Street, local libraries and staffed county parks. Participants can also download the book by visiting suffolkcountyny.gov.

Hahn said parks in North Brookhaven include hidden “check-in” signage located along trails and elsewhere within the parks. Once a visitor discovers a sign, they can scan a QR code with their smartphone or enter the provided website address into a web browser to check-in. The reward is a printable badge that can be pasted in the passport book, which includes the majority of the parks in her legislative district, including Old Field Farm County Park, North Shore Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, Centennial Park in Port Jefferson and Sherwood-Jayne Farm Nature Trail in East Setauket.

Hahn said there is also a digital option that will issue Open Badges. The legislator’s aide Seth Squicciarino said participants can take a photo of a sign and email it to kara.hahn@suffolkcountyny.gov, and a digital badge, which is compatible with any Open Badge platform, will be emailed back to them.

Once children collect and paste the 25 badges in the passport book, they can bring or email their passport to Hahn’s office to receive a certificate of completion. The legislator compared the new initiative to collecting stamps in travel passports or autographs at Disney World, and she believes children will enjoy the parks adventure.

“I am convinced children are going to love it, and what they love, they will be eager to do again and again,” she said.

The passport local park-goers can pick up to use for Leg. Hahn’s Passport Parks Program. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Cartright said she believes the passport program will be a success with children and is a great opportunity for residents to get outside and meet other families calling it “a networking opportunity in the sun.” The councilwoman said she will be exploring the parks with her eight-month-old daughter this summer.

“I look forward to filling up my book as well,” Cartright said.

Hahn said among her hopes are that residents will appreciate their open spaces and take better care of them, citing recent dumping problems, and that families will become familiar with parks they might not have been aware of in the past.

“I’m always surprised that people don’t know about some of our wonderful treasures,” she said.

The legislator thanked park officials and staff members for installing the signs as well as her staff members, Squicciarino, Zach Baum, Alyssa Turano and May Zegarelli, for all their help in developing the program.

“This summer there will be children on a summer-long scavenger hunt,” she said. “Some day they will be grandparents bringing their grandchildren to the same parks, boasting gently about the summer they filled their passport book with badges.”

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