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Frank Melville Memorial Park

By Cayla Rosenhagen

Cayla Rosenhagen

“Look, look! There’s a bird up in this tree … and there’s a nest, too!”

A young boy with binoculars pressed against his face cheerfully announces what he has found. An American Robin flies to her nest, cozily tucked in a nearby cedar; the child notices she has a worm in her bill. More young birders gather to watch in awe of the mother robin feeding her recently hatched chicks.

Nothing compares to watching a child’s face light up with happiness and fascination as they become immersed in the world of birds. I had the joy of seeing this firsthand. On June 27th, my sister Iris and I launched the first Children’s Birding Adventure at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket for Four Harbors Audubon Society. 

The event began early in the afternoon at the entrance to the park, as enthusiastic families circled around to introduce themselves on the lawn overlooking the lake. Their children ranged in age from infancy to age 10 and were bubbling over with questions and stories about wildlife they had seen. One of the participants, Olivia, 8, a birder for about two years, looked forward to seeing a Northern Cardinal, one of her favorite backyard birds. 

Before our walk began, the children engaged in a round of nature-inspired activities, including Sparrow Says (Simon Says with an aviary twist) and a storytime, featuring a book by Kermit Cummings entitled A Backyard Birding Adventure: What’s in Your Yard? To further their birding knowledge, we presented the budding ornithologists with a photo album of birds we were likely to spot on our adventure. Bird BINGO cards, illustrating the same feathered friends, were handed out to all the children so they could record their sightings in a novel manner. Each youngster was then lent a pair of child-sized binoculars and taught how to use them.

Eagerly, we headed down the path encircling the picturesque Mill Pond. As we strolled the half-mile paved loop, a dozen children and their families surveyed their surroundings for birds and were met with great success. Catbirds, swallows, woodpeckers, swans, and warblers filled the lenses of every pair of binoculars. Little eyes spotted blue jays, sparrows, and egrets; the children announced their birding discoveries to the group with delight. The group paused along the old stone bridge and I pointed out turtles on a floating log and the blackbirds who nest in the nearby reeds. When birds weren’t readily in sight, scurrying chipmunks, zigzagging butterflies, and the iridescent wings of dragonflies captivated the young minds. As the hour-long event came to a close, it was so gratifying to hear from both parents and kids alike that fun was had by all, and much was learned about the natural world.  

The members of Four Harbors Audubon Society have been my role models and mentors for many years and continue to inspire me. I started participating in their monthly bird walks when I was the age of many of the children who attended Saturday’s event. At age 16, I now serve on the Board of Directors for 4HAS, and it is a privilege for me to contribute to the younger generation’s love and appreciation of birds. Who knows? Birding may become a lifelong passion for them, as it has for me.

In the future, Four Harbors Audubon Society plans to run the Children’s Birding Adventures on a seasonal basis. If you are interested in joining us for our next program, please email us at [email protected] 

Cayla Rosenhagen is a local high school student who enjoys capturing the unique charm of the community through photojournalism. In addition to the Four Harbors Audubon Society, she serves on the board of directors for Brookhaven’s Youth Board, and is the founder and coordinator of Beach Bucket Brigade, a community outreach program dedicated to environmental awareness, engagement, and education. She is also an avid birder, hiker, and artist who is concurrently enrolled in college, pursuing a degree in teaching.

Frank Melville Memorial Park will soon be installing a wastewater biofilter system like the one above. Photo from Tom O’Dwyer

Frank Melville Memorial Park is about to add a cutting-edge process to help protect local waters.

In a recent press release, trustees of the Frank Melville Memorial Park Foundation announced that the Long Island Sound Futures Fund awarded the park a grant to install a wastewater biofilter at the Setauket park. The award administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation totals nearly $30,000.

The biofilter will replace a cesspool at a residence on the park’s property.

“We are extremely grateful to the Long Island Sound Futures Fund and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation,” park trustee Robert Reuter said in the press release. “Not only will the project reduce wastewater pollution to the Setauket Mill Pond but it will offer a tremendous educational example for the Setauket community and beyond about residential wastewater problems on Long Island and what can be done about it.”

In the press release, park trustees also thanked Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for their support “in helping the project obtain the grant award.”

The wastewater treatment technology used at the park will be a nitrogen-removing biofilter that was recommended by researchers at the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University, according to the press release.

Members of the center unveiled their nitrogen-reducing biofilter at a Shirley home in 2018. The wastewater biofilters remove nitrogen and other harmful contaminants from residential waste which is first pumped into a septic tank. The effluent is then moved into a separate system that trickles down by gravity, first going through a sand layer where bacteria turns the nitrogen into nitrite and nitrate. The waste then goes through another layer of sand and wood chips designed to turn the nitrite/nitrate into nitrogen gas that will go into the atmosphere, instead of the ground or surrounding water.

In 2015 Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called nitrogen pollution the county’s “environmental public enemy number one.” Since then, the county has worked with local scientists and engineers to craft technology that could replace Long Island’s old cesspool and septic tanks.

The plans for the park system were designed by Tom O’Dwyer, from HomePort Engineering, and the installation will be awarded to an installer by a competitive bid.

O’Dwyer and his wife, Carolyn, installed a low-nitrogen septic system on their Strong’s Neck property in the spring of 2019 after learning about the treatment process. Unlike a cesspool where bacteria and nitrogen can seep out, O’Dwyer said in a 2019 interview that the advanced process removes more nitrogen than a cesspool. Excessive nitrogen can affect the oxygen level in water where it is below the necessary levels to support marine life.

O’Dwyer recently said in an email he has been pleased with the results of his system, and in the last two years, he has designed a handful of the wastewater systems in environmentally- sensitive areas in the Three Village community.

“It’s an exciting project, and I am proud to be part of it,” he said.

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At the Sept. 12 memorial, Tom Manuel, founder of The Jazz Loft, led a six-piece jazz band followed by Barnes’ Model A car around the pond. Photo by Patricia Paladines

Those who knew and loved Hap Barnes finally had the chance to pay their respects to his family and memory at the Red Barn in Frank Melville Memorial Park the morning of Sept. 12.

Barnes died July 8 from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 84 years old.

A long-serving trustee of Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, Barnes for many years was building and grounds manager of the park where he oversaw all maintenance and improvement projects.

At the Sept. 12 memorial, Tom Manuel, founder of The Jazz Loft, led a six-piece jazz band followed by Barnes’ Model A car around the pond.

Family and friends had the opportunity to say a few words, and as the service ended, many witnessed in the sky three bald eagles circling the barn, which was dedicated to him.

Staff members and volunteers at Frank Melville Memorial Park often have found animals with hooks caught in wings, beaks and legs, such as the swan above. Photo from Frank Melville Memorial Park

At Frank Melville Memorial Park, remnants of fishing gear have created a nuisance that has led to wildlife injuries and even death, even though the activity isn’t allowed at the private park.

Recently, a cygnet, above, drowned after becoming entangled in fishing line. Photos from Frank Melville Memorial Park

Recently, park personnel discovered a dead cygnet in the millpond. The young swan was pulled from the water, and it was entangled in a fishing line with a large lure hooked into its neck. Anita Jo Lago, the park’s wildlife coordinator, said most likely the cygnet, after becoming entangled in the fishing line, drowned.

“It was a rainy day so I think that’s what delayed people seeing it,” Lago said. “Finally, when the rain stopped, we had a park visitor who saw it and reported it. If it was a sunny day, we would have known earlier and maybe have been able to untangle it before it drowned.”

Lago called the death of the cygnet, who was just about to learn how to fly, horrific.

“It was so avoidable just with help and courtesy from fishers,” she said. “Please don’t fish, and when you do, have some responsibility.”

Lago visits the pond every day to check on the wildlife. The incident isn’t the first time that animals were injured after fishers left gear behind. Lago said there have been snapping turtles with lines around their necks and hooks up their noses. Many of the creatures also have ingested hooks and lure, and she said two years ago a heron’s leg was amputated from a line. Geese have been found wrapped in netting, and dogs regularly step on hooks during walks around the park. One time a cygnet’s chest was sliced by a fishing line to the point where the internal organs could be seen. She added that when ingested, fishing lines move up and down and sever an animal’s intestines.

“When bobbins are laying on top of the water, the cygnets go and they eat them,” she said. “They think they’re toys or food.”

The staff has conducted cleanups to rid the pond of debris and posted signs in the park and messages on social media forbidding fishing, but Lago said the fishers keep coming into the park to fish. She said the millpond is only 2 or 3 feet deep, which isn’t as deep as the average pond, so it means fishing lines just sit on top. Line also gets tangled in tree branches that she said are difficult to reach from land or even in a boat.

“I get very anxious when I see the wildlife swimming in that area, and they’re so fast,” she said. “They think that the lure is a leaf or piece of vegetation.”

At one time, fishing was allowed in FMMP. Kerri Glynn, director of education for the park, said in 2005 Phil Brady, at the time a junior in Ward Melville High School, asked her if the park could start an educational program to teach Boy Scouts how to fish responsibly, including keeping track of and cleaning up one’s gear.

“We had a fishing club run by a wonderful young man, and it definitely kept people on the straight and narrow for several years but then we started having these issues,” Glynn said.

She added that after Brady went to college, the club lasted a while longer but then ran its course. It was then that board members decided to prohibit fishing at the park, once again, due to lure and filament accumulating, and they would try to guide people to other spots where they could fish. She said it seems as if many fishers aren’t paying attention to what they leave behind.

Staff members and volunteers at Frank Melville Memorial Park often have found animals with hooks caught in wings, beaks and legs, such as the swan above. Photo from Frank Melville Memorial Park

“We were always aware it was problematic,” the park’s education director said. “We tried to deal with it in a responsible way, and in a way that allowed people to continue to fish as long as they were responsible fishermen. That didn’t happen. They just took advantage and didn’t pay attention to the rules or anything else, so that’s why we had to shut it down.”

John Turner, a local environmentalist and former director of Brookhaven Town’s Division of Environmental Protection, said he has seen similar situations on Long Island.

He said at many fishing locations such as Stony Brook, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai harbors as well as West Meadow Beach there are filament receptacles. While fishing isn’t allowed at FMMP and there are therefore no containers, fishers can hold on to discarded fishing lines and then dispose of them the next time they go to one of the other locations. Turner said the filament is then collected and recycled into new fishing line.

He added that, besides a fisher disposing filament properly, there are ways to decrease the odds of having fishing line and bobbins getting caught in vegetation.

“It’s being aware of the environment around you and putting yourself in a place to fish that’s not likely to cause any entanglements or snares,” he said.

Turner said when people come across an animal in distress to try to move it to a quiet and sheltered place if possible and then call a wildlife rehabilitation center. He said it’s possible to help a small bird when a line is around its beak or limb by calming down the animal, holding the beak and cutting the line.

He added that it’s frustrating that many feel they don’t need to follow the rules of private parks such as FMMP when the foundation’s board is serving the community by making the grounds available to the public.

“These regulations and rules are put together thoughtfully and with recognizing that you’re trying to balance sometimes competing activities, competing uses, and you’re trying to strike a balance,” he said. “If the foundation says that fishing is not an activity that’s appropriate then the public needs to really respect that and not just decide to do what they want to do.”

The park’s board has asked that if people see anyone fishing in the park to call 631-689-7054.

Photo by Patricia Paladines

Four Harbors Audubon Society kicks off its annual Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch at Frank Melville Memorial Park, 1 Old Field Road, Setauket on Thursday, Aug. 27 from 5:30 p.m. to dusk through Oct. 6. Volunteers most welcome. Take part in a census which is used to estimate Common Nighthawk migratory numbers each year and to better understand nighthawk population trends. Visit www.4has.org for further details.


The folks from Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown stopped by Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket Aug. 11 to give local families the chance to meet some of their animals.

Socially distanced on blankets by the park’s Red Barn children, parents and grandparents had the chance to see birds, a baby squirrel and more up close.

Sweetbriar is home to hundreds of animals that the center employees and volunteers nurse back to health.

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In previous years, events such as the Memorial Day Parade and the Jewish Summer Festival at West Meadow Beach, above, filled up the days of Three Village residents. File photo by Seth Berman/Rapid Shutter Photograph

Starting with the annual Memorial Day Parade down Main Street and Route 25A, the Three Village area is normally filled with activities all summer long. While many annual favorites were canceled this year due to the coronavirus, some event organizers are striving to stay connected with residents.

In previous years, events such as the Memorial Day Parade, above, and the Jewish Summer Festival at West Meadow Beach filled up the days of Three Village residents. File photo by Rita J. Egan

Jay Veronko, post commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars East Setauket Post 3054, said the Memorial Day Parade is usually the group’s biggest event that they host each year. This year’s parade was canceled due to COVID-19.

“I’m not sure of when the last time it was canceled for reasons other than severe weather,” he said.

Veronko said the event means more than simply memorializing former local soldiers who lost their lives in combat overseas or honoring living veterans.

“The parade also serves as a source of local pride in our way of life — the community getting together and coming out and celebrating life and the beginning of summer, as well as getting many diverse groups together to march and let the community know about them and what they stand for or do,” he said. “For the fire departments, it’s a way for the community to cheer them on for doing a great volunteer job and for the departments to display their pride and commitment to serving the community they protect.”

The post commander said many older post members are hesitant to socialize due to fear of getting COVID-19 and are not visiting the post for social interaction, something he said may not be good for physical and emotional well-being. Veronko said while the future may not be clear, the post doors and the members are there for each other.

“The VFW of Setauket will be there for the veterans who need help or want to gather in the comradeship of arms,” he said.

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said there have been no in-person events at the Educational & Cultural Center since the mandatory shutdowns. While events currently can be held inside with 50 people or less, WMHO, like many organizations, had to furlough a few employees, and they currently would not have enough people to work on events even if they could be held as usual. The Discovery Wetlands Cruise, which takes participants on a trip through West Meadow Creek, has been suspended for 2020, and the WMHO also decided not to hold its summer music series this year.

While it’s still a couple of months away, the organization has already canceled Walk for Beauty, which is normally held every October to raise money for breast cancer research. Rocchio said many expressed concerns about those who are battling cancer, who may be immunocompromised, attending such an event. As for the future, she said they are waiting for the updates to state guidelines.

Despite the cancellations, the WMHO president said residents have not forgotten the Stony Brook Village Center.

“We get people on the Village Green at night,” she said. “They sit there with their families usually, some might be two people, some are four people. They do social distancing, and they bring food, some even play ball at the lower part. They feel it’s a nice place to watch the sunset.”

She said residents have also noticed people taking advantage of the view more so than in previous years. To continue connecting with the community, WMHO is also offering virtual classes from the wetlands.

“We’re trying to reinvent ourselves,” Rocchio said.

Lise Hintze, Bates House manager at Frank Melville Memorial Park, said many of their usual events, including their outdoor concerts, had to be canceled this summer, but other activities have been able to take place again. She said the size of the park allows for proper social distance for various classes such as yoga, meditation and tai chi where participants have been wearing masks.

“We can continue with our community and come together, because we have the Bates House and parks grounds that are perfect for what they need with those classes,” Hintze said.

Missing this year will also be the Jewish Summer Festival at West Meadow Beach, which Village Chabad in East Setauket hosts in August. The event also didn’t take place last year due to the grand opening of its new center in June 2020. Despite the lack of in-person events, Rabbi Motti Grossbaum said the center has been trying to maintain a sense of community and connection with virtual classes and events. He said while many have said they appreciate the virtual options, the Chabad staff is looking forward to seeing everyone in person in the future.

“There’s nothing that can replace face-to-face and in-person connections,” Grossbaum said. “A community is all about interaction, sharing, schmoozing, kids playing and enjoying friendships in real life.”

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Hap Barnes, standing, with friends in a 2007 The Village Times Herald photo. File photo

Harold J. Barnes, better known as Hap, died July 8 from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 84 years old.

“Our community has lost an icon.”

— Robert Reuter

Barnes was a long-serving trustee of Frank Melville Memorial Foundation and for many years was building and grounds manager of Frank Melville Memorial Park where he oversaw all maintenance and improvement projects.

“Our community has lost an icon,” said FMMF president Robert Reuter.

The foundation president shared fond memories of the park manager.

“Nothing made Hap Barnes happier than discovering otters in the park or wood ducks checking out nesting boxes he provided,” Reuter said. “Hap was an ardent conservationist, a skilled craftsman who made split bamboo fly rods, and to regular visitors, a friend and the familiar face of Frank Melville Park. Proud, but humble and soft spoken, Hap quietly and effectively managed the park and its myriad tasks as if his own. Turtle caught in the mill wheel? He knew how to safely free the turtle and the wheel.”

Three Village Historical Society historian, Beverly Tyler, knew Barnes since at least the 1970s, and in the past worked with him on
the park.

“Hap maintained a daily, sometimes hourly presence in the park and the sanctuary as well,” Tyler said. “There was no one who was more dedicated to the park and its use and preservation, yet Hap always had a low-key presence with a no-nonsense attitude as well. I will especially miss his calm and reasoned approach to every subject we discussed, especially when I was president of the park. I didn’t always agree with Hap but his counsel was always appreciated and often the best way to go.”

There was no one who was more dedicated to the park and its use and preservation, yet Hap always had a low-key presence with a no-nonsense attitude as well.”

— Beverly Tyler

Town of Brookhaven historian, Barbara Russell, remembered him fondly. She and Barnes started on the FMMF board at the same time.

“We grew to understand the Melville gift of the park together,” she said. “Whenever we met, I was greeted with that shy smile and ‘How ya doin’?’ I especially loved the times someone would walk by us and tell Hap a type of bird or duck they had spotted. He was always interested but rarely surprised as his eye was sharp. I feel I am one of many who will miss his presence in the Three Villages.”

According to a post on the Three Village Historical Society website, Barnes was also involved with the society and took on the responsibility of building and grounds when the society acquired the Bayles-Swezey House.

“We could always rely on him whether it was a large or small project or repair,” the post read. “He always made sure that the electric candles were placed in all the windows of the society’s history center and that a lit tree graced the field for the holidays.”

The society remembered him, too, for helping with traffic and various tasks at events. He also led community parades with his vintage cars. In 2000, he received the society’s Gayle Becher Memorial Award which honors volunteers whose work consists of repeated and regular loyal support.

In a Sept. 13, 2007, Village Times Herald article, Barnes spoke of his admiration of the area.

“We are very lucky to have the Three Village area,” he said. “If we didn’t have this I don’t think I would be on the Island anymore.”

Barnes is survived by his wife, Cynthia, five children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service is planned to be held in the Frank Melville Memorial Park in early September.

An extended obituary with more of Barnes’ accomplishments will be published in a future issue of The Village Times Herald.