Every day, Brookhaven residents walk or ride bikes along the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail, a paved path surrounded by nature that easily could have been taken over by cars and trucks.
On April 18, the Three Village Community Trust kicked off its spring Join the Conversation series with a walk and talk presentation dedicated to the nearly 3.5-mile trail. A little more than a dozen participants joined Herb Mones, TVCT trustee, and Charles McAteer, Friends of the Greenway chair, at the Limroy Lane entrance in Setauket to learn about the trail’s history.
The walk and talk was held in anticipation of the greenway’s 10th anniversary in June, as the first phase of the trail opened between Gnarled Hollow Road and Sheep Pasture Road in 2009.
Mones and McAteer said those who travel the greenway can experience a variety of landscapes, including an old-growth forest, a centuries-old woodland with a variety of trees and species; a field of rhododendrons that nursery owners once grew for Gold Coast estate owners; a sandpit; and the former Lawrence Aviation Industries property.
In 1999, residents began discussing what to do with land acquired in the 1960s by the New York State Department of Transportation that ran from East Setauket by the site of what is now the headquarters of hedge fund Renaissance Technology to the park and ride on Hallock Road in Port Jefferson Station. Mones said the state’s original intent was to create a bypass to Route 25A during an era when transportation departments were looking to move as many vehicles as possible as quickly as possible.
During the 1980s and ’90s, the state was under pressure to move people not only by cars but with different modalities of transportation, according to Mones.
“What better way did New York State have in fulfilling its mission to create an alternative to vehicles than having a greenway built,” he said. “So, it became not only an advantage to this community but also something the state could hang its hat on and say, ‘We’re doing something other than building bigger and better roadways.’”
Mones said the residents first met in 1999 to discuss the trail in the office of Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Mones and McAteer said the meeting included different members of the community with various opinions, including those who were against the trail.
“It was the biggest disaster ever,” Mones said, adding that many residents weren’t familiar with greenways and were apprehensive about the idea.
One of the biggest concerns of residents was people walking behind their property and potentially stealing from their homes.
Mones said it took a whole year before the community reengaged and organized a task force, and it took about 10 years until its opening in 2009. Earlier meetings were held at Renaissance Technology with the support of the hedge fund’s founder Jim Simons, and there were also smaller neighborhood meetings on Saturday mornings in cul-de-sacs and on corners to have discussions about concerns with residents, which McAteer said had more positive outcomes than the initial meeting at Englebright’s office.
Eventually, Englebright secured more than $2 million for the initial build-out and, on the federal level, former Congressman Tim Bishop (D) was able to obtain $5 million for the remaining sections of the trail. Mones added, due to the state and federal grants, the Friends group didn’t have to raise millions on their own.
While the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail had a rough start, McAteer said it inspired the future county project Rails to Trails that will run from Mount Sinai to Wading River. McAteer said Rails to Trails, which will be approximately 3 ¼ miles from the end of the greenway, had it’s opponents who at first didn’t want a trail running behind their backyards.
“They now have seen how well this trail is utilized, and how we keep it up with the Friends of the Greenway and working with our municipalities,” he said. “So now they see what can be done. So, another trail will become because of this.”
The Three Village Community Trust will hold a 10th anniversary celebration of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail opening June 8 at 11 a.m. at the greenway on Lynx Lane just east of Old Town Road in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.threevillagecommunitytrust.org.