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Wawapek Preserve

DeForest Williams property is open to public

A scene at the grand opening of Wawapek Preserve in Cold Spring Harbor last weekend. Photo from North Shore Land Alliance

Local officials gathered to mark the grand opening of the Wawapek Preserve last Saturday. Located in Cold Spring Harbor, residents will now be able to walk through the 32-acre parcel’s trails and take in its unique nature.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the North Shore Land Alliance, Huntington Town, Suffolk County, New York State and the local community, $8.5 million was pitched in to preserve the property, following a negotiation that spanned years.

This property, once part of a 600-plus acre piece of land that encompassed the Wawapek Farm, has remained in the DeForest Williams estate for more than 100 years. Originally owned by Robert Weeks DeForest, a lawyer and philanthropist, the family expressed interest in having the property preserved in 2006.

Unfortunately, Huntington and Suffolk County did not have the funds at the time to purchase the land. But three years ago, threats of development become more foreboding, and the land alliance came on board to help guarantee that the property would be conserved.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement that the town is happy to have partnered with the county and the land alliance on the purchase, and he hopes that many people will walk these trails to see some of the unique flora and fauna that call the Wawapek Preserve their home.

These partners were able to raise the millions needed to purchase the property, with the help of the residents of the community, nonprofits and local businesses.

Eastern box turtles, a species on the New York State special concern list, and at least three state-protected plants have been documented on the land, Lisa Ott, president and CEO of the alliance, said in a press release.

It has also been discovered that it’s very likely Wawapek Preserve serves as a breeding spot and stopover habitat for many migratory songbirds and other species. The scarlet tanager, a neotropical migrant species, was expected to be discovered there, although comprehensive biological surveys have been limited due to restricted access.

Long Island has a strong commitment to protecting the habitats of endangered birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Long Island Field Office has worked with state and local governments to protect the habitat of birds like the piping plovers.

More than 60 percent of the land is comprised of mature hardwood forest, which protects air quality, provides erosion control and is home to a variety of wildlife, trees and wildflowers, according to Ott.

Local lawmakers including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), Petrone, Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and former Councilman Mark Mayoka (R) gathered back in September 2013 at the DeForest Williams property, when the funds were first committed to make the purchase possible. Spencer called it an “incredible victory” at the time, and believed it was government work at its finest.

“The opening of Wawapek represents the ideal blending of conservation and community,” land alliance Chairman Carter Bales said in a statement.

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