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Heritage Park

The Heritage Center at Heritage Park. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Heritage Center in Mount Sinai will soon have new owners, but that doesn’t mean that things are going to completely change. 

As of Dec. 1, North Shore Youth Council took over the operations and activities of Heritage Trust.

Victoria Hazan, president of Heritage Trust, said that for the last two decades, the center and its grounds were run by a devoted set of board members and volunteers, but it was time for the center to have a new life. 

“We were looking for it to be transferred to another nonprofit,” she said. “We loved their mission — NSYC is awesome and are community oriented like we are.”

Based primarily out of Rocky Point, NSYC has been prominent within its community since the early 1980s. 

The organization was born out of concern for the high rates of substance abuse and teenage runaways on Long Island at the time. 

Driven by the desire to save as many youths as they could from drugs and alcohol, these individuals spawned an innovative model for youth prevention programming that continues to this day. Eventually NSYC began to expand and offer additional services along the North Shore including summer camps, after-school programs and mentorships.

Robert Woods, NSYC’s executive director, said that the organization always had a close connection to Heritage Trust. 

“This partnership will allow us to bring in more resources to the community and affords new and exciting opportunities for thousands of residents to enjoy and partake in,” he said. “With this expansion and increase of space for NSYC, we’ll be able to do more of what we love and serve youth and families in greater capacities.”

This doesn’t mean that NSYC will be closing or eliminating their Rocky Point presence, either. 

“We’re expanding our services to reach families in other communities,” he said. “We are thrilled for this next chapter of our organization to expand into the heart of the North Shore communities and build upon the center’s 20-year legacy.”

Lori Baldassare, founder and a board member with the trust, said NSYC was always affiliated with the group — her late husband Jaime was president of the NSYC board for a decade. 

“They share a mission that was similar to ours,” she said. “It just made sense.”

While the deal is not completely closed yet — Woods said it should be finalized within the next month — NSYC has begun hosting events and taking on the operations that Heritage is known for including the annual tree lighting and breakfast with Santa. 

“It’s great for NSYC to have a brick-and-mortar space for them to host events and use that they didn’t have before,” Baldassare said. 

Heritage Park, and the center inside it, began 25 years ago when the open land was slated for construction of a new Home Depot located at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road. Baldassare was a member of the Mount Sinai Hamlet Study for the Town of Brookhaven at the time. 

“People said they didn’t have a central meeting place in the area — not just for Mount Sinai, but the whole North Shore community,” she said. “The Heritage Center and park have been able to create a sense of place.”

Not only will the center host Heritage events in the near future, but Woods said they will be able to bring more activities for residents including LGBTQ youth programs and behavioral art classes. 

“It was bittersweet,” Hazan said. “But at the end of the day, it was the best thing we could’ve done for the park.”

Heritage Park

Once a month at Heritage Park, you will find smiling faces, bodies in motion, and even a doctor or two walking the paths of this Mt. Sinai park, as part of Walk With a Doc, a free walking program run by local physicians to promote healthy living and wellness.

Walking was recognized by the United States Surgeon General as one of the single most important things we can do for our health. With over 500 chapters worldwide, Walk With a Doc provides communities with a space to get in some steps, learn about health, and meet new friends. There are four Walk With a Doc chapters on Long Island, including the Stony Brook University (SBU) chapter lead by Stony Brook physicians and medical students.

“Our walks are a wonderful way to get together with the community, speak one on one with physicians, and get some exercise,” says Dr. Ursula Landman, clinical associate professor of anesthesiology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, and physician walk leader for SBU’s Walk With a Doc Chapter. “I am always looking forward to our walks and encourage everyone to join us on this lifelong journey of learning and health.”

The Stony Brook University Cancer Center joined Dr. Landman at Heritage Trust Park in October to educate walkers about skin cancer risks and prevention. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the Unites States with one in five Americans being diagnosed in their lifetime. Rates of new melanoma cases, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are on the rise.

The best way to reduce your risk of skin cancer is to avoid ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and indoor tanning devices. Stony Brook University Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention in Action (CPiA) team provided skin cancer prevention resources to walkers, including how to reduce their exposure to UV radiation, sun safety tip sheets, and sunscreen to apply during their walk.

CPiA is a New York State Department of Health grant supporting cancer prevention in local communities. Stony Brook’s CPiA team is bringing sun safety education and policy to Suffolk and Nassau counties, with the goal of reducing skin cancer on Long Island.

“Cancer prevention is a vital step to building a healthier Long Island,” says Annalea Trask, CPiA Program Coordinator at Stony Brook University Cancer Center. “We are proud to support Stony Brook University’s Walk With a Doc chapter to promote healthy living in our community.”

The SBU chapter of Walk With a Doc meets at Heritage Park, 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, Mt. Sinai every third Sunday at 11 a.m. Walkers may join in person or virtually, walking around their own neighborhood or on a treadmill. You can Walk With a Doc at their next walk on November 21, 2021.

CPiA is supported with funds from Health Research, Inc. and New York State.

About Walk With a Doc:

Walk With a Doc is a national organization hosting doctor-led walking groups in communities around the world. With over 500 chapters, Walk With a Doc provides communities with a space to get in some steps, learn about health, and meet new friends. There are four Walk With a Doc chapters on Long Island, including the Stony Brook University chapter lead by Stony Brook physicians and medical students. Walks are free of charge and open to the public. To learn more, visit walkwithadoc.org or contact Dr. Ursula Landman at [email protected]stonybrookmedicine.edu.

About Stony Brook University Cancer Center:

Stony Brook University Cancer Center is Suffolk County’s cancer care leader and a leader in education and research. With more than 20,000 inpatient and 70,000 outpatient visits annually, the Cancer Center includes 12 multidisciplinary teams: Breast Cancer; Colorectal Cancer; Gastrointestinal Cancer; Genitourinary Cancer; Gynecologic Cancer; Head and Neck Cancer, and Thyroid Cancer; Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplant; Lung Cancer; Melanoma and Soft Tissue Sarcomas; Neurologic Oncology; Orthopedic Oncology; and Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. The cancer program is accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. To learn more, visit cancer.stonybrookmedicine.edu.

Leg. Kara Hahn lighting a candle. Photo by Julianne Mosher

To honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, one local woman has spearheaded a county-wide event to honor and remember the little lives lost. 

Elizabeth Kennedy, of Rocky Point, shared her story nearly two years ago with Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), sparking the Suffolk County Legislature to unanimously approve a resolution, and designate Oct. 15 as “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Awareness Day” back in 2020.

Sponsored by Anker, it was introduced to increase awareness of the causes and impacts surrounding pregnancy and infant loss and to improve understanding, support and potential resources for those who grieve the loss of a pregnancy or an infant.

Kennedy lost her second child, who was named Grace, when she was 26 weeks and six days pregnant on Feb. 25, 2018. 

Struck with grief she felt that she needed to find an outlet to help her cope with her loss, so she began researching different infant loss support groups. Through her online search, she found the Star Legacy Foundation — a national organization whose mission is to increase awareness, support research, promote education and encourage advocacy and family support regarding stillbirth, pregnancy loss, and neonatal death.

After helping to organize a virtual candle lighting — called the “Wave of Light” — on Zoom to show respect for families and loved ones who have experienced loss last year, she and her fellow organizers decided to finally host an in-person event for 2021 at Heritage Park on Friday, Oct. 15.

At 6:45 p.m. nearly a dozen people came together to mourn and share their stories for one of the county’s first Wave of Light events at the park. 

“I think it’s important to have advocates like Elizabeth Kennedy to provide these types of events to help people understand that they’re not the only ones dealing with these challenges,” Anker said. “There are so many women, and even men, that need to understand they are not the only ones that have that have experienced the sense of tremendous loss.”

According to the Star Foundation, thousands of families in the United States experience pregnancy and infant loss each year. In the United States there are approximately 24,000 stillbirths, or 1 out of 160 births, a year. In addition to stillbirths, current research suggests that between 10% and 20% of medically confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage.

While 2020 was the first year Suffolk County acknowledged the day, the month of October was proclaimed as “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month” by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.2021 was special to Kennedy and her family, because they were able to stand together in-person.

“Compared to last year, this was so much better and it’s nice to have everybody here with us,” she said at the event. 

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) also visited the ceremony and helped light candles, too. 

“No one can understand the loss of a child, but we can certainly together try to educate others and try to share our love and our support and empathy and compassion to try to help,” she said.

As for Gracie, the Kennedy family knows she’s looking down smiling. 

“She continues to inspire,” Anker said. 

Stock photo

To honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, one local woman has spearheaded a county-wide event to honor and remember the little lives lost. 

Elizabeth Kennedy, of Rocky Point, shared her story nearly two years ago with Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), sparking the Suffolk County Legislature to unanimously approve a resolution, and designate Oct. 15 as “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Awareness Day” back in 2020.

Sponsored by Anker, it was introduced to increase awareness of the causes and impacts surrounding pregnancy and infant loss and to improve understanding, support and potential resources for those who grieve the loss of a pregnancy or an infant.

Kennedy lost her second child, who was named Grace, when she was 26 weeks and six days pregnant on Feb. 25, 2018. 

Struck with grief she felt that she needed to find an outlet to help her cope with her loss, so she began researching different infant loss support groups. Through her online search, she found the Star Legacy Foundation — a national organization whose mission is to increase awareness, support research, promote education and encourage advocacy and family support regarding stillbirth, pregnancy loss, and neonatal death.

After helping to organize a virtual candle lighting — called the “Wave of Light” — on Zoom to show respect for families and loved ones who have experienced loss last year, she and her fellow organizers decided to host an in-person event for 2021 at Heritage Park on Friday.

At 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 15, families can gather to mourn together and share their stories for an in-person Wave of Light event at Heritage Park, located at the park’s main building, 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai. Candles will be lit at 7 p.m. 

“If there are people out there who haven’t wanted to find support on their own yet, this could be a way for people to open the door,” Kennedy said. 

According to the Star Foundation, thousands of families in the United States experience pregnancy and infant loss each year. In the United States there are approximately 24,000 stillbirths, or 1 out of 160 births, a year. In addition to stillbirths, current research suggests that between 10% and 20% of medically confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage. 

Phil O’Brien (left) and his brother Patrick show off their apperal company, Anchor East, with their slogan,’No suits, just sand.’ Photo by Julianne Mosher

Updated Oct. 11: This event has been postponed until further notice. 

Anchor East — a Port Jefferson Station-based apparel company — has been known as more than just hoodies, tee’s and swimsuits. 

Brothers Patrick and Phil O’Brien started the brand earlier this year with two goals in mind: with the revenue received, they wanted to donate money to beach cleanups and different associations dedicated to diabetes. 

Throughout the summer, Anchor East hosted several beach cleanups on both the North and South Shores, and now, they are to host their first Walk to Cure Diabetes. 

On Saturday, Oct. 16, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., participants can gather at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai for a good cause. 

According to Patrick, the duo has organized a big fundraiser to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. 

“Since we have opened, we donate a portion of our sales, but we wanted to do more,” he said. 

Along with the walk, there will be a $5 raffle, with donated goods and services from over 30 other local businesses. 

“The support and outpouring of love from our community has been amazing,” he added.

The event is sentimental to Patrick, who is a Type 1 Diabetic, himself. 

“People should come down to support local community businesses, take part in an active, healthy day, and be part of a fundraiser to help raise money for the many, many people living with diabetes that affects more people than we all realize,” he said. “Being a diabetic, stuff like this never existed when I was growing up, so it’s part of our mission to raise awareness.”

Those interested can find out more information on the brand’s Facebook and Instagram pages, or online at anchoreastapparelco.com.

The Heritage Park Smiley Face. Photo from Fred Drewes

The daffodil Smiley Face on the north end of Heritage Park in Mount Sinai needs some freshening up. 

Located as drivers head east on Route 25A, the face has been there since volunteers of the Heritage Trust planted 2,500 daffodil bulbs on Oct. 12, 2012.

In spring 2013, the daffodils burst through the grass and began to form a smiley face.

Blooms of different varieties of daffodils started to bloom and young and old smiled when visiting the daffodils on the knoll. 

But then the blooming smiley face began to suffer.

Children wanted to pluck a flower and give it to a parent, or hold it for five minutes then cast the bloom aside. Running in and out and around the face was fun, but the plants were trampled. People would rip the blooms out to make their own bouquets.

All of this has resulted in a smiley face who looks somewhat sad looking. 

These acts have decreased the numbers of daffodils in the smiley face of Heritage Park.

The group is looking for a new set of community volunteers will plant new daffodils to heal the smiley face. 

If anyone has faded potted daffodils you could simply transplant them to the spot. 

Planting new bulbs in the fall would involve more planning and some sort of mapping where new bulbs are needed. 

If anyone wants to help the smiley face, they can contact the Heritage Trust.

Photo from Mount Sinai Fire Department photographer, Elliot Perry

Jaime Baldassare, an active Mount Sinai community advocate, passed away last week after a battle with COVID-19. 

A retired Suffolk County corrections officer, Baldassare dedicated his life to volunteering in the Mount Sinai and surrounding communities. He served on the Mount Sinai School Board, was a past president of the North Shore Youth Council for a full decade, held the title of former vice president of the North Shore Colts and was ex-chief of the Mount Sinai Fire Department. 

Photo from Mount Sinai Fire Department photographer, Elliot Perry

“It’s difficult to sum up someone like him in a few sentences,” said Andrew Samour, assistant chief at the Mount Sinai Fire Department. “He will be missed.”

Samour said Baldassare was with the department for 26 years.

“He was a dedicated firefighter for this department,” he said. “He was a fun guy to hang around with and had a great sense of humor.”

Baldassare was previously the assistant chief at the department from 2009-2015, and most recently served as chief from 2016-2017. 

In 2017, he told TBR News Media that he loved helping other people.

“There’s nothing quite like when you pull someone out of a fire or out of a wrecked car and you find out the next day that they made it,” he said. “It’s a feeling you can’t describe. I love to do this. We train to be the best we can be so anytime a call comes in, we’re ready to do whatever it takes to help the people of Mount Sinai.”

When Baldassare wasn’t putting out fires, he was helping his wife with the Heritage Trust. Lori Baldassare founded Heritage Park nearly two decades ago, and he was right by her side. 

Victoria Hazan, president of Heritage Trust, said that he could be found joking and chatting with people visiting the center. 

“He surely will be missed, that’s for sure,” she said. “He was a great contributor to Heritage and truly well-loved by many people in the community.”

Baldassare was brought to Stony Brook University Hospital in December where he was diagnosed with the virus. 

He was just 62 years old when he died on Feb. 4. 

“He’s done so much for the community,” Hazan said. “Even though he was in the background, he was an asset to Heritage.”

From left: Legislator Sarah Anker, Heritage Trust Vice President Brad Feldman, Jaime Baldassare, Heritage Trust Treasurer Lori Baldassare, and Heritage Trust President Victoria Hazan. Photo from Leg. Anker’s office

On Sept. 10, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) joined the Heritage Trust Board of Directors to honor Baldassare for his dedication and service to the community. 

“I want to personally thank Jaime for all the years of service he has provided to our community,” Anker said. “Our community has been so positively impacted by Jaime. Among Jaime’s many contributions, he was instrumental to the creation and maintenance of our beloved Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.”

The North Shore Youth Council is mourning his loss, too. 

Robert Woods, executive director, said he will be greatly missed.

“Jaime Baldassare served diligently for many years on our board of directors. He always served with joy during his time as president and made great strides in helping youth and families cope in our communities,” he said. “His legacy helped shape our unique prevention model, which supports hundreds of youth today.

Baldassare is survived by his wife of almost 30 years Lori, and his three children, Katie, Jesse and Cody.

A surprised rooster finds itself abandoned in the Heritage Park playground. Photo by Floridia

Four roosters, two adults and two young, were found abandoned in the Heritage Park playground Aug. 21. Town workers, police and animal rescue groups responded to take the animals away and give them sanctuary outside the town.

A Brookhaven town worker holds a fence up as animal rescuer Frankie Floridia takes them away. Photo from Floridia

Visitors to Heritage Park reported on social media finding the roosters Friday morning. Suffolk County Police were notified, and upon calling the North Shore-based Strong Island Rescue League around 10 a.m. a town worker was able to corral the animals into a corner of the playground while Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island, picked them up to put them in cages and transport them away. 

Floridia said the animals will either go to an animal sanctuary, or to families who wish to take care of them in townships where it is legal to own roosters.

The animal rescuer said there is a major issue in the Town of Brookhaven with people illegally abandoning animals such as domestic ducks in local ponds, but especially roosters. Mail order chickens have become an increasingly popular business, though some do not specify whether the chickens are male or female. The animal rescuer said they have come to calls for several abandoned roosters in Brookhaven over the past few years.

“What the people do, rather than get a fine is they go ahead and dump them,” Florida said. “The problem is dumping them, they can’t survive on their own in the wild. They are easy prey for predators, they get hit by cars, they have no food source. It’s a slow torturous death for them.”

Some online questioned whether the animals were runaways from the small farm just around the corner from The Wedge, aka Heritage Park. The roosters indeed did not come from Niegocki Farms, off of Mount Sinai Coram Road, but that small little taste of agriculture life on the North Shore has had major issues with people dumping chickens onto their property. 

Tricia Niegocki, of Niegocki Farms, said that they have had six occasions in the past few years where they found roosters dumped on their property. This includes an incident where an unknown individual dumped 26 hens over their fence “in the dead heat of summer” of about 95 degrees. 

“Anyone who knows us knows if it’s in our capabilities to be able to take hens off someone’s hands or help where we can,” Niegocki said. “By dumping them it was a three day ordeal in trying to catch them and pen them up in a pen we had to rush to get ready for them.”

Though the farm is often asked personally to look after chickens, especially roosters, another major issue with dumping roosters is the risk of disease spreading amongst a flock. This is especially concerning for a farm, which depends on those chickens as part of their livelihood, though leaving them to fend for themselves would only invite 

The farmer said the town code is partly to blame for the number of people who abandon these animals.

“A person’s dog can bark all day and night but a rooster is unacceptable? She said. “I think the laws need to change to be more accommodating. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, having the ability to feed your family is very important and chickens provide not only eggs but also a source of meat.”   

Strong Island Animal Rescue can be contacted at [email protected] or through their Facebook page.

To donate to Strong Island visit: https://www.strongislandanimalrescueleague.org/pages/donate-today

For more on the Mount Sinai farm, visit http://www.niegockifarms.com/

*This post was updated Aug. 24 to add information from the local Niegocki Farms about their own experiences with abandoned roosters.

 

Heritage Center at Heritage Park is used by the trust for its events. Photo by Kyle Barr

During the spring and summer seasons, the community center at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai would see an abundance of residents stopping in to take a break from the park or to join in the plethora of events held there. That all changed with COVID-19, and with no indication on when it can reopen, members of nonprofit Heritage Trust, which oversees the park, say they may need to reinvent themselves in order for them and the center to survive. 

Victoria Hazan, president of the organization, said right now is usually their busy season at the community center. They would normally have a number of classes, events, parties and receptions held in the building. 

People of all ages enjoy Heritage Park for its sizable number of amenities. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We usually have tons of things going on during the week, there’s Zumba, country line dancing, cooking classes, the local church and civic association use the space as well,” she said. “Before COVID-19 we were booked solid through next April.” 

Renting out the community center space is a major revenue source for nonprofit and it helps pay for other expenses. Without that option, it will be tougher to be able to pay for rent and insurance payments. 

Since closing in March, the organization has refunded deposits back to planned renters. 

“Those issues just don’t go away, our insurance on the building is extremely high,” Hazan said. 

The organization was able to get a three-month deferment of its mortgage payments, but that ends in July. 

Another funding avenue that the organization relies on is their regular fundraising events. This year they were unable to put on the annual spring carnival, one of the park’s main fundraising sources. That revenue from the carnival helps them host other events including the Christmas tree lighting and Halloween festival. 

Given the financial strains from COVID-19, the nonprofit may be forced to change how it operates. This year, the trust was planning to celebrate its 20th anniversary since its inception.

Lori Baldassare, the founding director of the organization, said they have looked at consolidating with other local nonprofits, as well as combining resources and staff. They have talked to North Shore Youth Council about possibly sharing some of the community center space. 

In addition, members are still trying to find creative ways to host some type of events for the time being. One idea would be a drive-in movie night or a virtual fundraising concert held at the community center, where only performers would be in the building and residents could watch from their homes. 

“Logistically it would be difficult to pull off but it’s something,” Baldassare said. “The community center fills a void for a lot of people.”

The group hopes the community can come to their aid. One of the issues the trust has faced over the years is that residents don’t necessarily know how they operate and mistakenly think the Heritage Park is run by Brookhaven Town or Suffolk County. Brookhaven workers generously supply general maintenance of the baseball field and grass cutting to the park, but the center and playground are owned by the trust, and all other landscaping, such as the flower plantings, are all done by volunteers.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 454 look at the names of flags in Mount Sinai Heritage Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

Baldassare said it has been a messaging issue but hopes if people learn where the funding comes from and what they’ve been offering to the community, individuals would be willing to make donations. 

The two agreed that the trust may need to change how they operate post-COVID-19. 

“I don’t see us coming out the same way we were before coronavirus,” Baldassare said. “We can’t just think nothing will happen, we want to continue to provide a sense of place for the community and I hope we have a path forward to do that.”

Hazan is concerned of how the community center will fare once the pandemic and shutdown is over. 

“I don’t foresee many people being comfortable at a big event like a wedding or reception,” she said. “There will probably be baby steps along the way.”

Possible capacity restrictions could be another obstacle for the group. 

“Not a lot of people are going to want to rent out a place like the center with just limited capacity,” Hazan said. “We’re worried, we’ve worked so hard over the years to get where we are, and I would hate to see it go away.”

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People of all ages enjoy Heritage Park for its sizable number of amenities. Photo by Kyle Barr

A flash of green among the gray, the short hills that roll along the side of Route 25A in Mount Sinai are strewn with people. Men and women jog, kids scream and laugh playing baseball and soccer. Children run up those green hills, then fall and let themselves tumble down the gentle slopes. 

A mockup of what the park would look like upon completion. Image from Lori Baldassare

Some developers have talked about creating a “town square” for the hamlet of Mount Sinai, but for lovers of Heritage Park, there already is one.

“There it is, Heritage Park — it’s one of the most beautiful parks of its kind that I’ve ever seen,” said New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). “It came together from the cooperation of so many wonderful people willing to pull together.”

Nearly 20 years ago, local residents became heated about plans to develop the site for the home improvement giant, Home Depot. The site, which was once a pumpkin farm, joined with other properties like the Davis Peach Farm in an agrarian setting. Decades of home development turned the area into small strips of business sandwiched in between residential neighborhoods.

Heritage Park went in the opposite direction. A successful agreement between Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven meant the county bought the site by using the Community Greenways Fund, while the town built the park amenities like the baseball and soccer fields. The nonprofit organization Heritage Trust continues to operate the park, along with Brookhaven town. The trust hosts multiple carnivals and other events throughout the year as a means of raising money. The trust also rents out the Heritage Center for public events. 

But more than that, the trust has become a lightning rod for Mount Sinai, and even well beyond. 

The history of Heritage

Very few dreams become reality, at least to specific designs.

But original plans for Heritage Park, known also as The Wedge, and mockups bear a striking resemblance to how the park has shaped up 20 years after those original designs. 

A contractor installs the irrigation system just north of where the playground is now located back in early 2003. Photo by Fred Drewes

Fred Drewes, a longtime park volunteer and Mount Sinai resident, originally came to the Mount Sinai Civic Association back in 1988 with the idea of a hamlet study, and the idea was resurrected in the late 1990s, co-chaired with then civic president Lori Baldassare. Within those designs, he proposed a park, one that would become the focal point for the North Shore that had once been McGovern Sod Farm. 

This was during a time when the rural past of the hamlet was being laid over with brick and concrete. One housing development after another changed the tenor of Mount Sinai. The last few farms on the south side of Route 25A started to close and look to sell their property, and a few big names started eyeing those parcels. 

“The development pattern of western Long Island was going to make it impossible for Mount Sinai to escape being visually damaged and swallowed up,” Englebright said.

Among the legal action taking place at the location of the Davis Peach Farm, one of those maligned developments was a potential Home Depot on a plot of land that had been a pumpkin and sod farm.

At the southern tip of The Wedge, a space of only about one acre that had commercial zoning, representatives of Home Depot approached the property owners who were looking to sell. The rest of the property was zoned residential.

Baldassare, who has spent the past 20 years as the on-and-off again Heritage Trust president, has long been in the trenches over the fate of The Wedge. Home Depot would end up the line in the sand for Mount Sinai residents. As civic president, she asked Drewes to revive his hamlet study and plan for a park. She also was a leader among residents campaigning against the home supply chain, getting people to tie green ribbons around their mailboxes all across the hamlet to show their support.

“We ended up competing for them with land,” Baldassare said. “We had thousands of ribbons up all over the place.”

The next task was to make sure, as Englebright put it, “the same thing didn’t come back in some virulent form.”

In 1999, the civic authored a proposal for Suffolk County to buy the parkland. Of course, in government, nothing is ever that simple.

A state, a county, a town, a civic

Rare is it that all levels of government from the top down work together on such a large project as was Heritage Park, and while it wasn’t all easy, the results stand.

Volunteers from Girl Scout Troop 004 help plant a garden in the fall of 2004 in what is now the Butterfly Triangle, though plantings later failed due to not breaking up the compacted soil. The same day, volunteers planted crocuses. Photo by Fred Drewes

Still, the process was grueling at times. Both Brookhaven town and the county wanted active recreation, namely baseball and soccer fields. The town, especially, wasn’t into designing passive space with ingredients of a walking path and playground, but mostly a space for, as Drewes called it, “free play.” He remembers the then town parks commissioner mentioning he would never use such a space for jogging, so close as it was to two major roads.

“The way the greenways program worked is they needed a partner to maintain it,” Baldassare said. “They weren’t willing to develop it, they needed a partner, and the county said they wanted a municipal partner, but the town was not willing to do all the things we wanted in the park.”

Before they were willing to sign on to the county, the town also wanted to have a civic partner.

The assemblyman came into the picture, agreeing with the civic about needing to maintain the heritage of the area. He said he reached out to his colleagues at the state, county and town levels to help open those conversations. 

One difficulty they encountered was finding funds to buy the particular section of The Wedge that was still zoned for commercial.

The property was owned by Vinny Bove, a local entrepreneur and developer. Englebright recalled him as a “rather rugged individual,” and didn’t expect that he would be such a kindred spirit. Speaking with him, he found Bove was more than willing to keep the property up for sale until the state could gather the funds for the civic to buy the property.

“His welcoming attitude and his willingness to embark on the journey of uncertainty that was worthy of the community’s heritage, made it possible,” Englebright said.

This first Smiley Face at Heritage Park was a display of 7,500 crocuses planted in the Fall of 2004. The present Smiley Face is a result of planting 2,250 daffodils in the fall of 2012 with the first daffodil Smiley Face blooming in spring of 2013. Photo by Fred Drewes

Of course, the next issue was that the civic had to be legally able to accept state funds, needing to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, categorized as a land trust. It was then the Heritage Trust was formed, which incorporated in 2000.

The past trust president and now treasurer recalls much haggling over which municipality would fork over the funds for which part of the project. After the section was designated for park, it would be years before the first shovels finally entered the ground in 2003 when it all started to come together.

The county would buy most of the land, with one section now owned by the trust. The town would build the walking paths and baseball and soccer fields, and town lawnmowers continue to maintain the space.

“All the voices were speaking of the green space,” Englebright said. “Just amazing loving work the parks department of the town invested itself into.”

20 years, 20 more

From a few baseball fields and passive green, the park grew. More state assembly grants and loads of private fundraising helped gather the money to build the barnlike structure that has become the Heritage Center, the main headquarters not just for the trust but also for  the civic groups and a gathering spot for other local groups and events.

Amy Satchell was a volunteer since almost the beginning, helping to fundraise for the center and installation of the playground, which went up years after the park was fully built. Every year around the holidays Satchell goes to help decorate the center and the large pine tree just outside its doors.

Heritage Center at Heritage Park is used by the trust for its events. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Many people had an idea that it would be the town center, the town square of Mount Sinai,” she said. “You can see now after all this time all the wonderful amenities that are provided.”

Drewes has seen more and more amenities come to the park, including his own idea for the now-annual parade of flags, a display of flags from nations across the world on the Avenue of America, a stretch of the walkway that encloses the park.

The longtime Mount Sinai resident, now 83, is retired. He can lean back on a park bench and look at all the work he and his civic compatriots have helped accomplish.

“I’m gratified and extremely happy that what we as citizens proposed and volunteers worked tirelessly to create is valued by so many people,” he said.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she has seen the effectiveness of the project and has proposed a similar agreement for a spot in Middle Island. The location is the site of a now-demolished K-Mart across from Artist Lake along Middle Country Road. 

“It has inspired me to take the model and replicate it,” Anker said.

Baldassare said that as the park reaches its 20th year, very few things remain as part of the original design, with only a splash pad and a few other odds and ends left. For the trust, it means the end of an era, and the start of a new one.

Fundraising has always been a difficulty, with the trust having an annual budget of around $300,000, the members have to fundraise what they don’t get through sponsorships and grants almost all by themselves. These funds also help to pay the several part-time staffers the trust needs for its ongoing efforts.

“People think it must be taxpayer dollars that take care of the center, and it’s not, we always have to raise money,” Satchell said.

They host events every year like the spring and summer carnivals, but those are dependent on weather. The trust treasurer recalled one year that was incredibly lean because of adverse weather conditions during one of its main fundraising events.

The park always requires more volunteers and is looking for more ideas to take the park through the next 20 years. 

Though many who visit the park assume that it must have always been there, for the trust and its volunteers, that can only be a good thing.

“When people say that, for them, the park has always been there, that’s fantastic,” Satchell said. “We want it to be that anchor in the community that people think it’s always been there. I do hope it always will be.”

This article was amended Oct. 2 to change the captions within the pictures to better reflect what they present. Several pictures were changed to say they were taken by Fred Drewes.