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Sunken Meadow State Park

From left, Brian X. Foley, Leg. Kara Hahn, Adrienne Esposito, Robert DiGiovanni Jr. and artist Jim Swaim
Environmental sculpture to highlight the plastic pollution crisis

By Heidi Sutton

The community came out to Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park last Sunday morning to celebrate the unveiling of Shelley the Sea Turtle, a six-foot metal sculpture that was installed at Field 1 to serve as a teaching tool to bring attention to the plastic pollution crisis around the world. It is the first of its kind in New York state.

The installation was made possible by a grant from The Long Island Futures Fund, an organization that supports projects that aim to protect and restore the Long Island Sound and unites federal and state agencies, foundations and corporations to achieve high-priority conservation objectives.

From left, Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr., Leg. Kara Hahn, Adrienne Esposito and Brian X. Foley at the unveiling;

The unique 3-D piece was created by artist Jim Swaim of Environmental Sculptures who attended the June 2 event. Based in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the company designs and builds large metal renditions of animals with the sole purpose to create art that inspires action. The sculptures are hollow and the community is encouraged to fill them with plastic items that would otherwise litter the landscape or waterways.

Since 2014, the company has installed over 20 environmental sculptures across the country in the shape of pelicans, whales, fish, frogs and a buffalo to, according to its website, “Serve as visual symbol of why we should protect the environment we enjoy.”

The unveiling, which was preceded by a beach cleanup, was hosted by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society and the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“This outstanding metal sculpture was undertaken for a very, very important reason — to highlight the importance of combating plastic pollution in Long Island Sound and all our waterways throughout the state, throughout the country and indeed throughout the world,” said Brian X. Foley, deputy regional director of the Long Island region for the state’s park system at the unveiling.

Plastic pollution is a global epidemic and considered one of three top concerns for ocean health. According to National Geographic, 73 percent of all beach litter is plastic and includes filters from cigarette butts, bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags and polystyrene containers.

“Today’s event is about combining art with the environment in order to fight plastic pollution.” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, concurred. “Seals, turtles, whales, dolphins unfortunately are eating all of the plastic pollution that humans are leaving on the beach that washes out into the sea and when they ingest that plastic pollution it kills them,” she said.

Christina Faber of the Northport High School E Team deposits a plastic bottle into the sculpture.

George “Chip” Gorman, deputy regional director for New York state parks spoke about how the new sculpture complements the recent environmentally sensitive renovations to the park and a new environmental education center. “[Shelley] is going to educate people as they walk by that eliminating plastic will protect the environment but will also protect sea mammals and it’s a great project,” he said.

Chief Scientist Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr. of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society was hopeful for the future. “We are seeing more sea turtles and humpback whales in the Long Island Sound. We can make a difference about marine debris. There’s no reason why it needs to be there and to pick it up and move it off the beach is pretty easy,” he said.

“Clearly there has been a sea change in public attitude about plastics and it’s because of people like you who are taking a stand,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson).“We were successful in our plastic straw ban, our polystyrene ban, in reducing water bottle use and the plastic bag ban that now is statewide because people like you have said ‘No more.’ We don’t want to litter our landscape. We want to take care of what we have and we need to continue that fight,” she said.

The event concluded on a symbolic note, with children and students from Northport High School filling Shelley with plastic debris.

“Shelley will be a symbol for how important it is to remove the plastic that you bring onto the beach and maybe never bring any more the next time you come,” said Hahn.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

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Kings park residents and their elected officials stand opposed to any plans to build a bridge or tunnel across Long Island Sound. File photo

Kings Park residents and their elected officials find the idea of building a bridge or tunnel from their backyard to Connecticut illogical and nearly comical.

State Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) has come out as a strong opponent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) statement that it’s time to pursue building a bridge or tunnel to connect Long Island to Connecticut to help reduce traffic — with an eye on Kings Park as a potential site.

“I find it inconceivable that you would destroy Sunken Meadow State Park and put truck traffic on the Sagtikos [State Parkway] to get over to Connecticut,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s one of these things that everybody in theory thinks is a good idea but no one wants the disruption.”

 “I find it inconceivable that you would destroy Sunken Meadow State Park and put truck traffic on the Sagtikos [State Parkway] to get over to Connecticut.”
— Mike Fitzpatrick

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) called the governor’s suggestion of building a tunnel “outlandish” given the state is facing a budgetary deficit. He echoed Fitzpatrick in “it’s not going through the center of a state park.”

In his State of the State address Jan. 3, Cuomo revived the decades-old idea of building a bridge or tunnel that would connect Long Island to New England.

“We should continue to pursue a tunnel from Long Island to Westchester or Connecticut,” Cuomo said. “DOT has determined it’s feasible, it would be under water, it would be invisible, it would reduce traffic on the impossibly congested Long Island Expressway and would offer significant potential private investment.”

The concept of a bridge across the Long Island Sound was proposed by Sen. Royal Copeland (D-NY) in the 1930s and has been tossed around for decades. A 1957 Oyster Bay-Rye Bridge study was conducted but never moved to fruition.

In December 2017, New York State Department of Transportation released a final draft of a Long Island Sound Crossing Feasibility Study that examined the potential of building a bridge or bridge-tunnel combination at five different sites. The 87-page study concluded that a bridge or bridge-tunnel combination could be economically feasible at three different locations: Oyster Bay to Port Chester/Rye; Kings Park to Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Kings Park to Devon, Connecticut.

The study concluded that the DOT should move forward with the next step: A five-year environmental evaluation process looking at the impact construction and the bridge would have on the three proposed locations.

Historically, when you see a bridge, tunnel or major interstate built you wind up with blight.”
— Tony Tanzi

“Gov. Cuomo has directed DOT to conduct additional engineering, environmental and financial analysis to determine the best path forward for this transformative project, which could reduce traffic on Long Island,” said DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey in a statement. “DOT will closely examine any potential impacts as well as benefits to the local communities as part of the process.”

Tony Tanzi, president of the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said that he is not in favor of the project. He doesn’t see any benefit for Kings Park.

“I think physically these generally wind up with a blighted area,” Tanzi said. “Historically, when you see a bridge, tunnel or major interstate built you wind up with blight.”

Fitzpatrick agreed, citing that the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge forever changed the character of Staten Island. The assemblyman said he’d rather see Cuomo focus on the $5.6 billion Long Island Rail Road transformation plan to electrify the Port Jefferson line and build a third rail to improve traffic conditions.

Trotta suggested the state consider road widening to add lanes and reduce congestion, or start by fixing potholes on Route 25A.

If the state moves forward with construction plans for a bridge or tunnel in Kings Park, it is sure to face opposition.

“If the state tries to jam it down our throats, they’re in for one hell of a fight,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s not the right place for it.”

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Handful of cross country runners compete at state meet

Port Jefferson's cross country team finished first in Suffolk County's Class C. Photo by Dick Olson

By Jim Ferchland

Coach Rod Cawley called runner Sam Walker a “take-charge kind of guy,” and at the Suffolk County Class C championship Nov. 3, the senior raced his team to its second straight title.

The Port Jefferson cross-country competitor finished first at the 5,000-meter Sunken Meadow State Park course, crossing the finish line in 17 minutes, 48 seconds.

Sam Walker, who placed first at the Suffolk County meet, rounds a corner before punching his state qualifying ticket. Photo by Dick Olson

Walker has claimed gold his junior and senior season and said placing first two years in a row to cap off his final county cross-country meet was icing on the cake. He also was quick to point toward it being more about the team than himself this time around.

“I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good,” Walker said. “This year didn’t entirely go as I wanted it to, but I was proud of myself because my main concern was if the team was going to qualify.”

The Royals finished 5-1 in League VIII, winning all but the final meet of the season with a loss to Shelter Island by a single point, 27-28. In all other meets, Port Jefferson dominated its opponents by 30 or more points.

“They worked very hard all season,” Cawley said of his athletes. “They did what they had to do.”

The head coach has led the Royals to 13 county crowns in his 25-year tenure. He said he gives all of the credit to his runners, especially Walker, who he said he’s had the privilege of coaching for four of them.

“He leads by example,” Cawley said. “He works hard and does what he has to do. He continued to improve each year.”

Walker said his focus this time around was on the underclassmen because of the fact the team hasn’t had many state qualifiers over his last four years.

“That whole race was trying to get the younger guys to the state meet and get that experience,” he said. “I know those guys have got a lot of talent and a lot of promise. And I know they’ll do the same for their younger guys.”

Grant Samara finished right behind teammate Sam Walker for second place. Photo by Dick Olson

The Port Jefferson team ran an average of 18:48.21, and had three runners place in the Top 5, with freshman Grant Samara placing second in 18:41 and freshman Cooper Schoch rounding out the fifth spot with a 19:05 finish. Right behind Schoch was Mike Ruggiero with a time of 19:06, and three others placed in the Top 15 — Brian Veit finished in eighth, Alex Rebic placed 11th and Owen Okst finished 15th.

“It’s amazing to see,” Walker said of the talented underclassmen. “I know when I go off to college, I’m going to be coming back to watch these guys. I know they have so much promise in this sport, especially since we are such a small school compared to the bigger Class A schools. We got so lucky with these freshmen that have such a future. I wasn’t even that driven when I first participated in the sport.”

Cawley said he too is liking what he’s seeing from his young guys.

“Samara’s an outstanding freshman,” Cawley said. “He came along quite a bit. He was the fourth guy in the beginning of the season and he ended up being the second. He improved considerably over the course of the season. For Schoch, he’s very talented and right there with Grant. Both of them ran as eighth-graders.”

Cawley said there were some challenges this year, but they were primarily a result of mother nature.

“It was a warm season — it was difficult to train sometimes and difficult to compete,” he said. “One meet got canceled because they ran out of ambulances, so I would say the weather was a difficult challenge for us this year. Cross-country is designed for the 50s and maybe the 60s, not the 70s.”

Cooper Schoch placed fifth at the Suffolk County meet. Photo by Dick Olson

With this, the weather once again became a colossal obstacle for Port Jefferson in the state meet at Wayne Central School District in Ontario Center just east of Rochester. The conditions were in the 20s with snow and wind, according to Cawley, a drastic change from what the Royals were getting used to. Port Jefferson finished the meet in ninth place.

“The ground was frozen,” Cawley said. “It wasn’t pleasant, and everyone had the same conditions, but the upstate schools are a little better handling that than us Long Islanders.”

Walker hit a major setback in the state meet as he suffered an injury in the tough conditions, costing him a Top 20 finish.

“I was feeling good,” Walker said of his confidence before his injury. “I tried catching up with the lead pack, but it was so muddy and there were foot tracks from the previous day that had frozen over. There were a bunch of holes and I rolled my ankle, fell, and it took a while to get back up. I knew that race was over. I couldn’t run as well as I wanted to, but it’s something to learn from.”

Despite the rough upstate experience, Cawley continues to remain optimistic about the future with his young, talented team.

“I’m very excited,” Cawley said. “I have very high expectations for the next few years.”

Men on the boat stranded in the Long Island Sound wave to officers. Photo from SCPD.

Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers rescued four men who became stranded in a 10-foot inflatable raft in the Long Island Sound Thursday night, June 29 while a small craft advisory was in place.

Suffolk Police said they received a 911 call at approximately 9:15 p.m. from a man who was stranded in a 10-foot inflatable raft, along with three other male occupants. The men, who launched from Sunken Meadow State Park to go fishing, were pulled out to the Long Island Sound approximately one mile and a half north of the Nissequogue River. Their boat did not have a motor, and they were unable to paddle back due to winds blowing between 20 to 25 miles per hour.

Marine Bureau Officers Charles Marchiselli, Edmund McDowell and Erik Johnson, responded in Marine Bravo and located the men within 15 minutes of the 911 call. The boat’s owner, Marco Murillo, 36, of Massapequa, and three additional men, were taken aboard Marine Bravo and transported along with their raft to Sunken Meadow State Park.

All of the men were wearing life vests and there were no injuries.

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Vanessa Rodriguez races across the St. Anthony's Invitational 5K-course at Sunken Meadow State Park. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Karina Allen will be racing her way to the state qualifiers.

The Comsewogue sophomore hit the road with her team for the St. Anthony’s Invitational at Sunken Meadow State Park Sept. 30, and despite the constant drizzle and 35 mph gusts of wind that would make it hard for any athlete, the Warriors’ cross country standout finished the 5K event just 14 seconds shy of her personal best.

Karina Allen, who finished the St. Anthony's Invitational 5K race in 13th place out of 190 runners, will be competing in the state qualifier this November. Photo by Bill Landon
Karina Allen, who finished the St. Anthony’s Invitational 5K race in 13th place out of 190 runners, will compete in the state qualifier this November. Photo by Bill Landon

Scores of runners answered the gun in a mass start for the 5K-event on the Cardiac Hill course, facing unrelenting wind as the rain came down sideways, making for slippery conditions. Allen crossed the finish line in 21 minutes, 11.46 , which placed her 13th out of 190 runners.

“Just going up Cardiac [Hill] — that’s just really the worst part, but going down Snake is easier — you just have to let yourself go,” Allen said. “I struggled at the bottom of Cardiac, and going up I was just sore in my legs and in my forearms, but going down the rest of the hill I was ok.”

Comsewogue head coach Charlotte Johnson said Allen has tremendous potential, and will set the tone for the team for the remainder of the season.

“Today was Karina’s personal best on this course, and she has already run under the time required for entry into the state qualification meet,” Johnson said. Allen will be competing at the qualifier for the first time this November.

Second across the line for the Warriors was classmate Mya Darsan, who placed 95th with a time of 24:38.14. Darsan said despite the wind and rain, she liked the conditions.

“It’s a bit windy; it’s a bit cold, but it feels nice when you’re running because it’s not as hot,” she said. “The wind does hold you up, but when it’s at your back, it gives you a nice push.”

Darsan did agree that the hardest part of the course was Cardiac Hill.

At the St. Anthony's Invitational, first-year varsity runner Mya Darsan reached a new personal record with her 95th-place finish. Photo by Bill Landon
At the St. Anthony’s Invitational, first-year varsity runner Mya Darsan reached a new personal record with her 95th-place finish. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s very difficult; it’s a mountain,” she said. “It’s not straight up — when you think you’re done, there’s another one [to climb]. It’s steep and dirt is coming from everywhere; it’s painful.”

Third across the line for Comsewogue was senior Vanessa Rodriguez-Reyes, who finished 107th in 25:14.43. The time was 18 seconds shy of her personal best.

“At the start, we were running into the wind and that made it hard, so you have to push yourself a lot,” Rodriguez-Reyes said. “But then coming back it was better.”

She also said Cardiac Hill is steep, adding that sometimes runners don’t have enough energy to run up, so they walk.

Johnson said her team’s challenge will be to keep everyone healthy, as the Warriors build toward the division meet.

“The team’s strength is three-fold — the girls who run in the middle of our pack; our leading runner, Karina Allen; and our group of outstanding freshman, including several who have run well this year over the 1.47-mile and 5K courses,” she said. “We have a young team showing great promise for the future.”

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The Middle Country girls’ cross country team poses for a group photo at Sunken Meadow State Park. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Middle Country girls’ cross country squad were handed the victory by forfeit, as they took on Commack Tuesday afternoon at Sunken Meadow State Park. Both teams were released together as the pack disappeared over the wooden footbridge for the 2.7-mile event, but Commack ran the wrong course, leaving the Mad Dogs the victors by a score of 50-15.

It was a multischool meet with schools from all over Suffolk County pairing off in front of a large crowd of onlookers.

Camila McCusker runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon
Camila McCusker runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon

Middle Country head coach Bill King said both teams were evenly matched and knew the meet would be determined by a couple of points. Nearly 20 minutes after the start of the race, the best runners of the day turned the corner and headed down the home stretch. The only problem was, it was only Commack crossing the finish line, without a Middle Country runner in sight.

King said he couldn’t understand the disparity, and Middle Country senior Olivia Rogers said the Commack runners didn’t complete the same course that her team ran.

“The times are a little messed up because Commack ran a different course than we did,” the co-captain said. “We ran a different distance than they did —  they took a shortcut, so I don’t know if there’s even going to be a score.”

It turns out that King’s suspicion was right, and after a lengthy postrace investigation, the Commack runners were found to have turned off the official race route and ran a shorter distance. The Commack head coach admitted his team’s mistake and handed the victory to Middle Country.

“It should’ve been a very close meet, but I knew something was wrong when I saw them coming in one, two, three and four,” King said. “It should’ve been much closer, and the difference should have only been a couple of points [between us].”

But before the dust settled, the first across the finish line for Middle Country was senior Samantha Plunkett, who said she wasn’t happy with her performance because she had done better at her previous meet.

Samantha Plunkett runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon
Samantha Plunkett runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’ve run faster than I did today, so it wasn’t my best,” she said. “I ran faster two weeks ago when we versed Lindenhurst, but today, the conditions were OK.”

Crossing the line in second was sophomore Camila McCusker, who has similar feelings as Plunkett regarding her own performance.

“Today wasn’t my best — I was a couple of seconds off,” McCusker said. “It was a little hotter today than normal.”

Crossing the line for third was Rogers, followed by sophomore Kayla Juran, and finishing in the final points paying position was eighth-grader Nevaeh Kallon.

“We have a close group of girls — [myself], Camila McCusker, Kayla Juran and Samantha Plunkett,” Rogers said. “The team we versed last time was Sachem East, I think they’re the best in the county, so they pushed us really hard. We wanted to stay as close as we could with them; gain some respect.”

Middle Country competed with just nine girls, where most other teams field many more runners. King said that his team puts the emphasis on quality, not quantity.

With the win, Middle Country improves to 3-1 in League II and hits the road next for a tri-meet with Sachem North and Central Islip on Tuesday at Sunken Meadow State Park at 4 p.m.

Water quality monitors take samples and check for bacteria. Photo from Sarah Ganong

It wasn’t pretty, but it was still pretty necessary.

More than 50 volunteers came together over the weekend to plant an acre of native Spartina cordgrass at Sunken Meadow State Park in Smithtown. The planting event was one of the first major public steps in a multiyear grant to restore river and marsh habitat and strengthen the park’s resilience to severe storms.

The $2.5 million project is funded by the Hurricane Sandy Competitive Grant Program and administered by Save the Sound with a team of governmental and nonprofit partners. Sunken Meadow State Park comprises 1,300 acres including the mouth of the Nissequogue River, salt and tidal marshes, dunes, coastal forest and three miles of Long Island Sound beachfront. Attracting over 2 million visitors a year, it is often dubbed the most popular state park in the New York City metro area.

Historically, Sunken Meadow Creek connected over 120 acres of marsh habitat with the Nissequogue estuary and the Sound, but in the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers built an earthen dike across the creek, restricting its tidal flow and fundamentally changing the marsh’s plant community, a spokeswoman for Save the Sound said. The Sunken Meadow Restoration team has been working since 2008 to restore tidal flow to the creek. Hurricane Sandy hit the park in October 2012. Its storm surge blew through the dike, fully reconnecting the marsh to the estuary for the first time in 60 years.

Volunteers take to Sunken Meadow State Park on Sunday to plant seeds for the future. Photo from Sarah Ganong
Volunteers take to Sunken Meadow State Park on Sunday to plant seeds for the future. Photo from Sarah Ganong

“Now that tidal flow is restored to Sunken Meadow Creek, we’re excited to combine marsh restoration, green infrastructure and public education to have an even greater impact,” said Gwen Macdonald, habitat restoration director for Save the Sound, a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “It’s an amazing opportunity to show millions of people what a comprehensive program for a healthy coastal ecosystem can look like, with less water pollution, better tidal flow and vibrant marshes for thriving bird, fish and wildlife populations.”

Several environmental groups from state and local levels joined forces starting in 2012 to develop a plan to build on this reconnection and prepare the park’s ecosystem for future storms. The Sunken Meadow Comprehensive Resilience and Restoration Plan was established to manage stormwater, bulk up resilience of the marshes, explore improvements to riverine habitat and improve public knowledge and understanding of the ecological communites at the park.

“Today’s planting event is a first step in restoring historic tidal wetlands at Sunken Meadow State Park,” said Amanda Bassow, director of the northeastern regional office for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“We are thrilled to be able to support this project in partnership with the Department of the Interior through the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program. The project will provide many benefits including strengthening natural coastal buffers to large storms, increasing wildlife habitat and improving water quality in the park and the surrounding waters of Long Island Sound.”

Sunday’s planting was not the only activity at the park this summer. New York Parks Department and Save the Sound have hired a summer education staffer to engage tourists and local students around issues of native versus invasive species, stormwater runoff, climate change preparedness and other topics, with a focus on opening opportunities for young nature lovers to become citizen-scientists.

The next step in the project, according to Save the Sound, is designing green infrastructure solutions for a 12-acre parking lot that drains into Sunken Meadow Creek. Incorporating stormwater best management practices in the design will reduce the pollutants that run off the parking lot and allow water to percolate into the ground, improving water quality in the creek for the wildlife that calls it home.

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