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Discovering the science of wind at the Maritime Explorium. Photo by Jacqueline Grennon-Brooks

By Erin Dueñas

Calling all artisans, DIYers, amateur scientists, inventors, innovators and everyone in between: The first large-scale Makers Festival is set to debut on Long Island this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Port Jefferson Village Center and Harborfront Park.

Presented and co-sponsored by the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson, the Long Island Makers Festival 2015 will feature a broad range of interactive exhibits including 3D printing, robotics, green screen technology, performance art, African drummers, roller skating, organic gardening and even geologists setting off volcanoes. The Explorium will also be open; there will be a “meet the scientist” booth and a horseshoe crab walk is scheduled. According to festival event coordinator Cindy Morris, the aim of the festival is to encourage the people who are already actively “making” as well as to show the community that innovation can happen anywhere.

“The common thread of the Maker Movement is accessible innovation,” Morris said. “The reality is that people have great ideas. We want to empower the ones who are creating. We found some amazing people.”

Morris said that financial backers and high-tech equipment is no longer necessary for anyone looking to invent and create. “This is something anyone can do. You don’t need a $5,000 piece of equipment. People are doing these things in their living rooms and garages.”

Mixing technology, coding and moving with kidOYO. Photo by Melora Loffreto
Mixing technology, coding and moving with kidOYO. Photo by Melora Loffreto

The Maker Movement is a mash up of lovers of art, science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and innovation who quite literally make things based on that love. “These are people who are inventors, artists and scientists who are doing incredible things. We believe it was time to showcase what is going on here on Long Island.” Morris said the festival will include a group of men who make holograms and students who created their own 3D printer. “We are taking concepts that feel big and powerful and making them accessible.”

Morris said that the festival motto is “Try it.” “The event is going to be very hands-on. No one could run an exhibit without it being interactive,” Morris said. “We are not just showing what was made, but we are focusing on what you can be doing.”

According to Lauren Hubbard, executive director of the Explorium, the festival will be an extension of what the Explorium does every day. A hands-on museum that features what Hubbard calls “open-ended exhibits,” the Explorium encourages visitors to build and create whatever they want. “You can do the same activity and get a different outcome every time,” Hubbard said. “There are just a million things that can be built.”

She said that the Makers Festival will offer visitors the same experience. “It’s all going to be hands-on and open ended,” Hubbard said. “We wanted to provide a venue for all Maker people to come together for a family friendly day. There’s going to be something for everyone.”

Melora Loffreto is the founder of the festival co-sponsor KidOYO, a program geared toward children ages 7 to 17 that teaches computer programming and coding. She said that Makers festivals and fairs have been popping up in small-scale locations such as schools and libraries across Long Island, but the Port Jefferson festival is the largest so far. “They take place in larger cities and there is a big one in Queens, but this is really the first to come out this way,” Loffreto said.

She described the Makers Movement as particularly important to Long Island. “Our youth is funneling off the Island. The festival is going to say that we have lots of Makers here, we have the skill set and we want to inspire people to keep the talent local.” She said the Makers Movement and the upcoming festival will help to keep skills in the United States. “We want to spur on inventors and to inspire local youth to go down a path of inventing and engineering.”

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Photo by Katherine Link of R.J.K. Gardens, Inc.

Picture this: the sun is setting. You’re sitting by a small waterfall that empties into a pristine pond. The campfire is roaring in the background. Someone is barbecuing up a storm.

It feels like you’ve escaped. But you’ve merely stepped outside your home.

Furnishing outdoor spaces is an increasingly popular home improvement trend on Long Island, according to Richard Kuri, president of St. James-based R.J.K Gardens Inc. Lately, homeowners are installing things like fire pits, synthetic golf greens, horseshoe pits, bocce courts and more, to create spaces to live and play in.

It’s not a new movement, but one that has gained momentum over the last five years or so. The most popular items tend to be fire pits and outdoor kitchens, said Kuri in a recent interview. Other intriguing elements include outside heaters, water-resistant couches, flat-screen TVs, waterfalls and ponds stocked with fish. The idea of creating “serenity spaces” is also big — Kuri said his company recently converted a wooded area rife with bramble that was an eyesore at a condo complex in Hauppauge into a meandering path with benches and a gazebo. “For the people who live at these condos, it’ll be a destination, a place for people to relax,” he said.

Stock photo
Stock photo

Some of these popular outdoor space furnishings can be found in do-it-yourself form at your local home improvement store. One of the simpler items, the fire pit, comes in a kit nowadays, Kuri said — easy enough for the average handy person to assemble. Do-it-yourself fire pit kits could run up to about $900, he said.

Marc Weinstein, the maintenance manager of Owens Brothers Landscape Development in Baiting Hollow, is seeing an increase in demand from clients for outdoor LED lighting, including lights that can illuminate a pathway, or shine up or down from trees. He said he thinks the reason for the increase in demand is because people want to enjoy their outdoor spaces for longer periods of time once the sun sets.

It’s also not a budget-breaking improvement. Outdoor lighting is something one could also find at a local home improvement store, Weinstein said. “I would say that places like the Home Depot and Lowe’s, I think they’re making it more, the word sexy, to have these kinds of things, and more affordable, to have these kinds of things,” Weinstein said in a recent interview.

Kuri feels the rise of outdoor living spaces stems from when the economy crashed around 2008 and 2009. That’s when outdoor-living home improvements really ramped up because people who would have normally dropped big money on vacations decided instead to pour it in to their homes and create a “staycation” getaway.

“I think that the phrase ‘getting back to nature,’ the fact that if you have nice weather or if you can enjoy nature and get outside [to] enjoy it, why not do it?” Kuri said. “It’s another destination — in your own yard.”

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Past Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith on a recent trip to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville. File photo by Elana Glowatz

It’s been some 130 years, but the half-mile loop the horses raced is still visible, though it’s coated in layers of leaves.

The path in the woods is all that remains of the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville, where local bettors once gathered to watch men race in carts called sulkies behind horses, or compete on bicycles or even on foot.

Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith said the track is one of the last known of its kind in the Northeast. He discovered the hidden gem a couple of years ago using Google Earth: After hearing rumors that such a track existed off Canal Road, Smith looked at an aerial view of the hamlet and quickly noticed a faint oval shape cut into the woods. He visited the spot with his wife, Pam, the next day and walked the length of the track.

Brookhaven Town has already acquired about half of the 11-acre plot since Smith alerted Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld about the track and an effort to preserve it began two years ago. Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket) said the other half is owned entirely or almost entirely by one family, and the town is discussing an acquisition with them so it can preserve the site.

Starting in the 1880s, horses would race in heats throughout an entire afternoon at the Terryville site and the attendees would gamble modest amounts. The horses would take a few minutes to go counterclockwise twice around the half-mile track, which was part of a larger circuit of driving parks. It was adjacent to the Comsewogue stables, of which Robert L. Davis, a well-known area horse trainer, took ownership. The stables are now the Davis Professional Park.

“This was not some backwoods, good ol’ boy, local kind of thing. This was a big deal for its time,” Smith said. He called it the NASCAR of its day and said, “This was an era when the horse was king. The horse was everything to everyone,” including transportation, sport and work.

 A ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville on July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville on July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Eventually, however, the excitement petered out — the automobile was likely the track’s downfall.

“People were more enamored and more excited with racing automobiles than they were with racing horses,” Smith said.

At least through the mid-1950s, local kids raced jalopies around the 25-foot-wide track, which helped preserve it, preventing it from becoming completely overgrown.

“A lot of this has just been pure luck,” Smith said, referring to the fact that the track was still visible and he was able to find it. He pointed out that if the Google Earth satellite image had been taken not in the winter but during the summer, when the trees had leaves, he would not have been able to see through them to the track beaten into the ground and would not have known it was there.

It was also by luck that Smith found a pair of Victorian-era field glasses. He had been searching for horseshoes with a metal detector near the finish line on the west side of the track when he came upon them. They were broken, likely dropped near the finish line and trampled.

Smith said he cleaned them using toothbrushes and compressed air.

Other artifacts he has are a ticket from a July 4, 1892, race and news articles that mention the track. He does not have photos of the track in use, but he believes they are out there somewhere.

Fiore-Rosenfeld said during a visit to the track that one reason he is interested in preserving the driving park is to make a place where residents can recreate. With it abutting the Woodcrest Estates apartments, he said, it is a natural place to create a public space.

The councilman said, “It’s a miracle that it’s still here” and it’s mostly whole.

In addition to the track being overgrown, a Long Island Power Authority right of way cuts into its southwestern curve. Hurricane Sandy also tore some trees out of the ground, so there are a few obstacles in the way of those who wish to walk it.

As the town waits to acquire the remainder of the track to ensure its future, Smith pieces together its history. A stump could have been part of a guard rail on the border of the track and the infield — inside the racing loop — was clear of trees so viewers could see across to the other side.

It’s hard to picture the Victorian-era scene, Smith said, “but these were local guys and horse racing was their passion.”