Enjoying the great outdoors has become even easier at Avalon Nature Preserve.
Visitors to the preserve in Head of the Harbor, adjoining Stony Brook, will soon see the completion of a much-anticipated boardwalk. While nature lovers in the last few weeks have been able to enjoy the new boardwalk at the preserve, the Monday after Thanksgiving will see work begin for the installation of additional railings. The work will close part of the boardwalk near the grist mill Monday through Thursday, but it will be open to visitors Friday through Sunday. Katharine Griffiths, director of Avalon Nature Preserve, said the boardwalk should be completed by the beginning of the new year.
The boardwalk and other projects are part of the park’s strategic master plan. Work on the boardwalk began in March, but once the pandemic hit, construction halted for 10 weeks, according to Griffiths. Once work was able to begin again, production was delayed sporadically due to wait times on materials, as many supply chains were slowed due to the pandemic. Originally, the hope was for the boardwalk to be completed in May.
Griffiths said the preserve has also installed new benches along the boardwalk, and the upper frog pond is being repaired due to a hole in the liner. Trail systems have been redone and many paths have been resurfaced during the last few months, and due to the renovations, the park’s labyrinth will now only have one access point. Restorative plantings have been placed around the labyrinth as well as other areas in the park, and Griffiths said they will be more plantings in the spring. Currently, the frog pond and labyrinth are closed due to
With many seeking outdoor activities during the pandemic, Griffiths said she has seen an increase in visitors.
“When the world feels a little crazy, people want to come here to feel better,” she said.
Head of the Harbor resident Harlan Fischer said he visits the park often with his dogs. While he hasn’t seen all of the improvements yet, he’s thrilled with what he has seen so far. He described the preserve as an asset to the area.
“It’s a really neat place, the nature preserve,” he said. “Kathy Griffiths sees everything gets done and is really good at this.”
The park abuts the T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park, which also will be undergoing a makeover of sorts. Maintained by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the duck pond park is in need of restoration after damage sustained during Tropical Storm Isaias in August when more than a dozen trees fell as the storm ripped through the park. There was also major damage to the park’s braille-engraved handrails, the borders maintaining the gardens and the walkways along the pond.
The entrance to Avalon Nature Preserve is located at the corner of Harbor Road and Route 25A in Stony Brook. Additional parking is available on Shep Jones Lane in Head of the Harbor.
On July 6, beloved resident of Head of the Harbor, educator and friend, Ellen Rappaport, died at the age of 76 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
After graduating from Brooklyn College with a degree in biology in 1965 and a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University in 1967, Ellen went on to pursue a career as a science librarian. After her career as a science librarian for pharmaceutical companies, she became a certified library media specialist and educator in the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District, where she worked for over 30 years.
She was devoted to her Stony Brook and Head of the Harbor community where she lived for more than 50 years. Ellen’s passion was connecting with people. This was evident through her frequent walks within the community and beyond.
“Our roadside chats were a fixture in my workday,” said Katharine Griffiths, executive director of Avalon Park & Preserve. “Ellen was truly a woman about town, almost always traveling by foot in the village. … Ellen was spry, spirited and dedicated to her causes. Everyone at Avalon sends our deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones.”
Gloria Rocchio, president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, also met with Ellen on her daily walks around Stony Brook Village Center.
“[She] loved to walk,” Rocchio said. “I met her on one of her walks which sometimes took her as far as Port Jefferson. After my first encounter, I looked forward to seeing her. I discovered her thirst for knowledge, which she would impart to others. She loved life … always looking forward, never back. Other people she met while walking felt the same way. Ellen had an infectious smile, and when she was going to tell a joke she would get a twinkle in her eye and you knew the punch line was coming. Always making others smile. She was a beautiful person inside and out.”
Over the years Ellen frequently collaborated with the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s education department. Her dedication to education shined when she would don authentic 18th-century clothing at the WMHO’s historic properties for students and visitors. She guided WMHO’s Youth Corps in planning its annual Santa Fund, a program that raises money to purchase presents for local families in need, foster children and women in recovery from substance abuse. She volunteered every year.
The Stony Brook Cancer Center remarked that, “[We] lost a pillar of the community when Ellen Rappaport passed away. … She will be fondly remembered for her smile and willingness to tackle any assignment to support the success of the Walk for Beauty fundraiser. … She was a shining example of passion, energy and creativity and she will be deeply missed.”
Ellen was always looking for ways to connect members of the community with one another. In her efforts to do this, she reached out to the St. James Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center. Through her creative thinking, she suggested that the Center have their patients create artwork to sell at their Fall Festival to raise funds for Walk for Beauty. The patients “have been so proud to create and donate their works and be an important part of Walk for Beauty’s fundraising efforts year after year,” said Maureen Ingram one of the directors from the center.
Danielle Snyder, director of therapeutic recreation echoed her sentiments, “[Her] contagious smile, enthusiasm and joy for life … Her love, energy and the pep in her step lit up our hearts and every space we were blessed to share with her.”
For over 15 years Ellen served on the board of Walk for Beauty — an annual walk that raises funds for breast cancer research at Stony Brook University. Suffolk Country Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she will remember her as “an incredibly kind and passionate person. Her altruistic nature was evident for all to see … her big smile and her kind words of encouragement … Ellen’s absence will be felt throughout the community.”
Another member of the Walk for Beauty board, Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said that, “She was always brimming with ideas on how to make the walk even better and tried to include different community groups in the work. Ellen was a kind and warm person who always had a smile and a positive word to share.”
Ellen projected only positivity and thoughtfulness to the people around her — she had an innate gift that made you understand that you were important, and that you had something of equal importance to offer to the world.
She is survived by her daughter Stacey Rappaport and son-in-law Craig Solomon of Ridgewood, New Jersey; her son Hartley Rappaport of Long Beach, California; her grandchildren Eli and Audrey; her sister Lois; her brother-in-law Michael; her sister Myra and her other brother-in-law, also named Michael. Ellen remained devoted to her late husband Stephen until her last day.
Ellen asked that donations in her memory be made to the Ward Melville Heritage Organization and the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education in New York City, organizations to which she devoted many hours and through which she shared her love of history, reading and educating young people.
For more information about the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, call 631-751-2244 or send an email to [email protected]. More information about donating to the Children’s Book Committee Fund at Bank Street College of Education can be found by calling 212-875-4540 or emailing [email protected].
Ellen also requested donations in her memory to Sanctuary for Families, New York’s leading service provider to victims of gender-related violence, and Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, her daughter’s congregation, which always welcomed Ellen with open arms. Sanctuary for Families can be reached at 212-349-6009 or [email protected]. For more information about donating to Barnert Temple call 201-848-1800 or email [email protected].
Scores of Head of Harbor residents voiced their opposition and called on the village Planning Board to reject proposed plans for a 8,633-square-foot maintenance shed on property owned by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.
Many who spoke at a Dec. 10 public hearing stated that the rural character of the village would change, and that the maintenance shed was too big for the neighborhood. Others expressed concerns that the Mercers have additional projects in the works such as adding a guest house on their close to 70-arce Owl’s Nest property.
Christopher Modelewski, Huntington-based lawyer representing Mercer, said the shed would only take up less than 2 percent of a two-lot section of the property and the architects would make it into a “beautiful barnlike structure.”
Mercer representatives said the structure, called a “tool shed,” would house equipment used to maintain the Owl’s Nest property, including lawn mowers, golf carts, trailers and other vehicles.
Neighbor Michael Folan, who lives on Thatch Meadow Farm with his wife and two other friends, said the proposed development would impact their day-to-day life.
“Nobody stands to be impacted like we do, the northern end of this project will start 70 yards from my kitchen window, we’re the closest residents to this proposed project,” he said. “Mr. Mercer worked very hard for his money, he can spend it however he wants to. For him this would be an occasional diversion. It would be a daily hindrance and a nightmare for us.”
“For him this would be an occasional diversion. It would be a daily hindrance and a nightmare for us.”
– Michael Folan
Other neighbors said the shed would block scenic views of Thatch Meadow Farm and Stony Brook Harbor and were concerned about the increase of noise and light pollution construction would bring.
Constance “Conky” Nostrand, owner of Thatch Meadow Farm, whose estate is adjacent to the Mercer property, said the shed would threaten the location of her water supply and asked for a 30-feet buffer to be reinstated.
According to Nostrand, she reached out to the village a few times regarding the buffer with no responses. She said village officials have left her in the dark on the situation.
“You act like I don’t exist,” she said. “Thatch Meadow Farm is one of the last Smith estates that has not been split up and developed.”
Anthony Coates, village resident, said he is not convinced they have seen the last of the guest home plans and opposes the construction of the tool shed.
“We still maintain this is the wrong structure in the wrong place,” he said. “It needs a full SEQRA review.”
Coates added due to the application being incomplete, the planning board should make the developers go back to the drawing board on any proposed plans.
Harlan Fischer, planning board chairman, said the board would not vote on the proposal until it was revised by Mercer’s representatives. The application, he said, was incomplete and inaccurate because of the inclusion of proposed plans for a guest home.
In response, Modelewski said those additional plans were meant to not “see the light of day” and was never the subject of a site plan review. He admitted that submission was a mistake and that they would withdraw it.
Fischer said it would be better for the board to have a thorough review of the application before moving forward. The public hearing could continue on Jan. 28 at 5:30 p.m. if revised site plans are resubmitted in time.
Some residents in the incorporated Village of Head of the Harbor are sounding alarms, stating that the rural character of their village is about to change.
They’re accusing officials of concealing from residents for more than six months a proposed “commercial style” development plan submitted by their billionaire neighbor Robert Mercer, who helped finance the Trump 2016 campaign, Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica, which reportedly played a role in the Brexit campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
“The Mercer project is probably the largest undertaking in our small village in 50 years,” said village resident Anthony Coates. “It’s a medical center, gas station, parking garage and apartment building all rolled into one. Yet, you can’t get a bit of information about it from Village Hall. Why?”
Residents have formed the Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition that aims to gather information about the proposed scope of the project. They estimate that the project may be as large as 28,500 square feet.
The village clerk and Building Department staff did not respond to telephone messages. Officials have previously stated that its email system is only used internally, a practice that is in potential violation of New York State’s Freedom of Information Law.
The situation with the Mercer project raises questions about the transparency issues in village operation, perceived and real.
Harlan Fischer, chairman of the Planning Board for Head of the Harbor has said in a telephone interview that the only project he has in front of him for the 74-acre Mercer property is a roughly 9,000 sq. ft. equipment shed.
That plan, Fischer said, was submitted one month ago for review. The Planning Board will hold a public hearing for that structure at its Dec. 10 meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Fischer said. “I think that people might have a problem with the political leanings of the property owner, but we’re not a political board.”
The Planning Board, Fischer said, follows the village code, which is published on the Head of the Harbor’s website. Residents, he said, can view the plans at Village Hall.
Cleo Beletsis, a member of the village’s Joint Coastal Commission, which ensures that projects conform with the Town of Smithtown Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, said that discrepancies in the project’s scope may possibly be discussed at the commission’s next meeting Dec. 5.
There may also be a host of zoning issues that need to be discussed, but these matters are not in the Joint Coastal Commission’s purview.
Coates said he has information suggesting that the Mercer plans call for construction of three separate buildings, a maintenance facility with a six-bay garage, a “guest” cottage equipped with medical facilities including a cryotherapy chamber and hyperbaric suite and “service entrance for doctors and related staff” and an accessory building with a four-bay garage.
The Times of Smithtown was unable to reach Mercer for comment.
The Village of Head of the Harbor’s meeting dates and code can be found at its website: www.villagehohny.org.
Avalon Park & Preserve is expanding its recreational trails to extend from its existing location on Harbor Road over to a 28-acre farm along Stony Brook Harbor. When completed, the public will have access to a boardwalk that overlooks a marine sanctuary on the Long Island Sound.
The new site, which is currently private and not yet open to the public, is located directly east of Harmony Vineyards in Head of the Harbor.
The Smithtown Town Board voted March 5 to approve the project, known as Shore Farm. Additional state and town approvals are needed before Head of the Harbor can issue its permit. No time frame has been reported for the project’s completion.
The park currently encompasses 76-acres and is comprised of five distinct natural habitats populated entirely with native fauna. People are excited about the expansion.
“Avalon is an excellent steward of their lands,” said Joyann Cirigliano, president of the Four Harbors Audubon Society. The area, she said, is officially designated Important Bird Area for migratory birds. “The park provides a full range of bird habitats: field, forest, edge, shore and fresh ponds.”
Cirigliano said that the park is particularly good at keeping out invasive species, which allows scrub brush to thrive. The scrub, she said, is an important habitat for the warbler and other edge birds, a population in decline.
Avalon Park & Preserve was created in 1997 by the Paul Simons Foundation to celebrate the life of Paul Simons. Paul is the son of Renaissance Technology founder James Simons. He and his wife Marilyn and family planned the park to honor Paul’s love of nature after his life was prematurely interrupted at age 34, when he was killed by a car in a biking accident near his home in the Three Village area. When complete Avalon Park & Preserve will encompass roughly 104 acres.
The park, though it is privately owned, is open to the public from dawn to dusk 365 days a year. In addition to its trails, the park offers yoga classes and stargazing programs at an on-site observatory, when conditions permit. The Audubon society hosts bird walks in the park. Information can be found on Avalon’s website.
“We have been involved with Avalon Park from the beginning and are most excited about the expansion and the joy and happiness it brings to so many people,” said Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in nearby Stony Brook.
Co-CEO of East Setauket-based investment firm connected to major money behind Trump administration
1 of 12
A large group of political protesters paraded along busy Route 25A in East Setauket March 24, aiming their outcry not just at the administration in Washington, D.C., but a reclusive hedge fund billionaire by the name of Robert Mercer residing in their own backyard.
Mercer, the co-CEO of an East Setauket-based investment firm and resident of Head of the Harbor, has been under the spotlight for being the money behind President Donald Trump’s (R) administration, maintaining a major influence on the White House’s agenda, including its strict immigration policies.
Mercer, a major backer of the far-right Breitbart News, reportedly contributed nearly $13.5 million to the Trump campaign and, along with his daughter Rebekah, played a part in securing the leadership positions of chief strategist Steve Bannon and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.
Regarding Mercer as the administration’s puppeteer-in-chief, protesters assembled to bring public attention to the local family’s power in the White House and the influence “dark money” has had in America.
“I think we’ve reached a worrisome point in our history that a single individual can have the kind of influence that Robert Mercer has, simply because he has a huge amount of money,” Setauket resident John Robinson said. “I think he’s an extremely dangerous individual with worrisome views. He just wants government to not be around so people like him and companies like his can plunder to their heart’s content.”
The short march, made up of several protest groups including the North Country Peace Group, began at the CVS shopping center and landed at the bottom of the hill where Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies sits. Leading the march were local residents wearing paper cutout masks of Trump, Bannon and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), each strung up like puppets and controlled by a resident in a grim reaper outfit, representing Mercer.
Equipped with signs reading “Mercer $ Bought Trump We Pay the Price” and “Resist Mercer,” Long Island residents stood in front of the investment firm’s office and participated in a mock debate with the faux-political figures. The topics ranged from Mercer’s denial of climate change to Zeldin’s stance on the now-pulled American Health Care Act.
Sue McMahon, a member of the grassroots coalition Building Bridges in Brookhaven, had only recently learned about Mercer’s heavy involvement in Trump’s presidency and his close proximity and participated in the march to expose him.
“I’m very concerned we have a person like this among us who holds the power of the Republican Party,” McMahon said.
She said she’s particularly troubled by the administration’s overwhelming ignorance of environmental issues, its emphasis on money and the extreme views of Breitbart News.
“This is not the America I grew up with, this is not what I want,”she said. “I’m not normally a protester, but I believe we all have to stand up now.”
Paul Hart, a Stony Brook resident, said he was there to support democracy.
The American people have lost representative government because campaign contributions are now controlled by the rich, he said, and it’s hard to think about the needs of constituents when they don’t contribute in a way that’s beneficial to a politician’s re-election.
“The average person has absolutely no voice in politics anymore,” Hart said. “Bbefore, we had a little bit, but now, we’re being swept aside.
One protester referred to Mercer as one small part of a larger picture, and expressed concern over a growing alt-right movement throughout the country that prefers an authoritarian government that runs like a business.
“I guess that’s what Trump is all about,” said Port Jefferson resident Jordan Helin. “But we’re seeing what the country looks like when it’s being run like a business, [and it’s scary].”
Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and member, said her organization has held previous actions against Renaissance Technologies, and was among the first grassroots groups on Long island to take notice of how entrenched in the White House Mercer and his family are. According to her, Rebekah Mercer is in many ways more powerful than her father.
“We cannot take the focus off [Rebekah Mercer] right now, because she’s become a powerful force in this whole issue of money in politics, buying candidates, everything we see in our government,” she said.
Since Robert Mercer is local and lives in our community, she added, it’s time that we showed our strength and our voice regarding what this money is doing to our country.
Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the death of a Setauket man who was cutting a tree in Head of the Harbor Mondy, Nov. 28.
Erik Halvorsen, owner of Norse Tree Service in Setauket, was approximately 50 feet up in a tree when he attempted to cut parts of the tree down in Avalon Park and Preserve, located on Harbor Road, at about 11:15 a.m. Police said the trunk then splintered and trapped the business owner against the tree. Halvorsen, 45, who was wearing a safety harness, attempted to free himself and fell 20 feet. An employee was able to lower Halvorsen to the ground.
Director of the Avalon Park and Preserve Katharine Griffiths said Halvorsen was a friend to the entire staff.
“Erik was a friend to many of us at the park,” she said in a statement. “We are heartbroken over this tragic accident. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and his many friends.”
He was transported by St. James Fire Department Ambulance to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Three members of the Village of Head of the Harbor’s elected office will see their terms end in April, but residents will have the chance to re-elect them or say goodbye in a village-wide election scheduled for Tuesday, March 15.
The Head of the Harbor general election will take place from noon to 9 p.m. inside Village Hall, located at500 North Country Road in St. James.
The vote will determine the fate of Village Party incumbents, Mayor Douglas Dahlgard and trustees Judith Ogden and Gordon Van Vechten, who are being challenged by Watchdog Party mayoral candidate John Lendino, who now serves as deputy commissioner to the village highway department, and board of trustees candidate John DePasquale of St. James.
Residents sounded off on the ongoing deer management discussion at Village Hall last Wednesday night, and after hearing residents’ concerns with the initial resolution proposed last month to allow more hunting, the board of trustees withdrew consideration.
The law was originally written to amend the village code to enable hunting of deer pursuant to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation authorization. But trustees said it was rescinded so as to allow more time for thought before action.
“We retracted that law and it is completely off the table,” trustee Judith C. Ogden said.
The board created an advisory committee that will consider and report to the board on a local deer management program. The committee is expected to give a report to the board by Dec. 31, Ogden said.
Mayor Douglas A. Dahlgrad said it is his hope that the committee will meet with other villages and towns to see how they are handling their deer issues, as well as with the DEC. Residents continued to voice their distress for how the board will handle this issue in the upcoming months.
George Kaloyanides, a Head of the Harbor resident, said this issue has garnered more interest than any other in the 30 years he’s lived here. He said he hopes that this issue is dealt with as transparently as possible as it goes forward.
“I hope you [the board] would consider expanding this charge to include polling residents of the village to see how many people see the deer as a problem,” Kaloyanides said. “In the intent of eliminating concerns, I think a majority vote of the proposed actions would help.”
John Lendino, a Head of the Harbor resident, questioned the board’s judgment for the handling of communications on this issue. He said that notices of the public hearing were hidden under several other documents on bulletin postings around the town.
“All these people tonight wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for me,” Lendino said.
Jeffrey Malkan, a Head of the Harbor resident, said that a vote should be included for this issue on this year’s ballot so voters can say if they approve.
“The final word should belong to the people,” Malkan said. “In the interest of avoiding controversy, it should go back to the residents as a referendum.”
Chairman Michael Utevsky will head the committee along with eight other members and trustee liaison Deputy Mayor Daniel White.
A public hearing was held in early September where residents were concerned not only with the proposal, but also the way village hall handled alerting citizens on the issue.
Julie Korneffel, a Head of the Harbor resident, was unhappy with how little notice she was given about this issue before it came to town hall.
“There is a big concern for transparency now,” Korneffel said. She also felt that the code written “seemed purposely vague.”
At what point does a neighborhood nuisance become a problem that warrants lethal action?
A few North Shore communities have been debating whether to legalize hunting deer in their residential areas, after complaints relating to an increase in their region’s deer population. Hunting advocates say the ticks deer carry have been transmitting Lyme disease to humans; the animals are eating their garden plants; and the deer are moving traffic hazards.
As a result of the complaints, Huntington Town officials have given residents of Eaton’s Neck the green light — under certain restrictions — to hunt deer with longbows on their own properties. Officials in Belle Terre Village, after receiving emotional pushback from many community members, did not take action on a similar proposed hunting law. The issue is still up in the air in Head of the Harbor, where officials recently floated a proposal to allow hunting there as well.
There are many problems with allowing people to hunt deer in a residential location: It will not have the desired effect; it is an unreasonable and disproportionate response to nature; and there is great potential for negative consequences.
It’s not a problem for nature to occur around Long Island, it’s merely a fact of life. We hear residents bemoan the loss of open space and cry out against development. Well, this isn’t “The Sims” life simulation video game — we can’t cherry pick the greenery and sprawling beaches, and kick out the deer. Or rather, we shouldn’t.
There are nonlethal ways to patiently deal with the deer issue: Spray deer and tick repellant in your area; use tick repellant on yourself when you go outside; check your body and clothes for ticks when you hang out in tall grass or woods; use plants that deer do not eat; and drive slowly on small back roads that are surrounded by woods.
Let’s not forget that hunting is dangerous in a residential area because accidents can — and do — happen.