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Park

The property is adjacent to Cordwood Landing County Park off of Landing Road in Miller Place. Photo by Erika Karp

Acquiring land for open space preservation is usually straightforward, but that wasn’t the case for a piece of property adjacent to Cordwood Landing County Park in Miller Place.

What started as a simple purchase of the land and a quest to preserve it, ended with bad blood between a legislator and those involved with the property, after Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) accused developer Mark Baisch and Friends of Cordwood Landing of colluding together to defraud the county. The accusation, which Baisch and Tom Cramer, president of Friends of Cordwood, said is not true, was enough to discourage Baisch from following through with his initial plan to sell the property for open space preservation.

“I’m not interested in selling the property … not after I’ve been accused with stuff like this,” Baisch said. “Who in their right mind would go ahead and keep negotiating further?”

Baisch acquired the property in September 2014 for $750,000 from the original owner. When asked why Anker accused him and Friends of Cordwood Landing of conspiring together, Baisch was unsure where the accusation came from.

Anker said she thought Baisch and Friends of Cordwood Landing were conspiring together after receiving an email from Cramer that criticized Anker’s efforts regarding the property, and added he thought Baisch’s asking price was reasonable.

The accusations did not stop there. According to a previous interview with Cramer, Anker did not do what she could to help purchase and preserve the land — a statement Anker refutes. The resolution for this property was Anker’s first piece of legislation when she was elected in 2011. According to Anker and Jon Schneider, deputy Suffolk County executive, Anker did what she could within the law to acquire the property. In 2011, before the original owner sold the property to Baisch, Anker said the land was appraised for $783,000 — the owner refused to sell the land to the county for an unknown reason.

After Baisch purchased the property from this owner, Cramer approached Baisch about selling the property for open space preservation. According to Baisch, once he agreed, Cramer put the steps in motion to get the land reappraised and encourage the county to purchase and preserve the land. Baisch said he would sell the eight parcels for $1.25 million. He said he offered the property for 24 percent more than the purchase price, knowing what he could get out of the 5.5-acre property.

According to Schneider, based upon as-of-right laws, the property yielded five one-acre parcels plus an additional parcel using Pine Barrens credits, which allows a developer to add parcels to the land according to their individual credits. Baisch explained that he had several Pine Barrens credits, which increased the number of possible parcels to eight.

After Anker issued another appraisal of the property, the county offered $930,000, despite Baisch’s selling price — they did this with the understanding that six parcels were permitted on the property, as Baisch must get approval to add the two additional parcels to his plan. While Baisch claims to have said “no” to the offer, Schneider said he did not respond to the offer, and it expired.

“We can only make an offer based on land as it sits,” Schneider said. “We can’t make an offer today as though he has eight lots. He doesn’t have eight lots he has six.”

While Cramer said Anker didn’t work hard enough to acquire the property, Schneider said there is little else the legislator could have done.

“All a legislator can do is set the process in motion,” he said, “Then we make an offer based on fair market value. At the end of the day, the goal is … we want to make the best use of taxpayer dollars.”

Anker said she can’t “break the law” and get involved in the negotiations regarding the property, and added the issue, including the rally Friends of Cordwood Landing organized on Oct. 15, was political. Steve Tricarico, who ran against Anker for Legislator of the 6th District, attended the rally, according to Anker. Anker was not invited to the event.

Although Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the rally and promised to pay 30 to 35 percent of the property’s cost, Baisch is currently in the process of approving his eight-parcel plan for the property with the Town of Brookhaven.

He intends to build seven homes and one Workforce home. According to Baisch, the law states that if a developer intends to establish more than five parcels, they must provide at least one Workforce house, otherwise known as affordable housing. Baisch plans to market the affordable home to a returning veteran.

According to Cramer, the property is the last remaining tract adjacent to Cordwood Landing County Park. Despite the controversy surrounding the property, officials like Anker would like to see the property preserved.

“This parcel would make an excellent addition to Cordwood Landing County Park and the nearly 65 acres already preserved by Suffolk County,” Anker said. “I know Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilwoman Bonner share my desire to preserve this parcel, and I look forward to working with them in preserving this important piece of land.”

A West Meadow Beach bench sports a new plaque honoring former park ranger Eileen Gerle. Photo by Eric Santiago

By Eric Santiago

More than 30 North Shore residents gathered around a park bench at West Meadow Beach on Sunday for the chance to see former Brookhaven park ranger, Eileen Gerle. The bench — which now bears a plaque commemorating Gerle’s work as an environmental educator — was dedicated to her after she retired and moved to Florida last year.

“It’s hard to put into words,” said an emotional Gerle. “It’s very overwhelming and touching to be loved by so many people.”

Gerle returned this week for a special Eagle Scout award ceremony of one of her former students just in time for a group of residents and friends to seize the opportunity and formally show her the plaque and celebrate old times.

Former town park ranger Eileen Gerle is honored at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Eric Santiago
Former town park ranger Eileen Gerle is honored at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Eric Santiago

“She was the best,” said Paul Feinberg, a West Meadow watchdog who helped organize the dedication along with a handful of other North Shore natives.

They were all frequent guests at Gerle’s “Sundowner” beach parties, where they would drink wine, eat cheese and watch the sunset. When it was clear Gerle was going to retire, the group hatched a plan to honor her work.

“We just decided that a simple plaque would be the nicest thing to do,” said Naomi Solo, a Port Jefferson resident who worked on the dedication.

As park ranger, Gerle was responsible for maintaining the beach, the area wildlife and, critically, educating people about the environment. She worked at West Meadow from 2009 to 2014 and said she made many friends along the way.

It was for this reason Solo and the others contacted Brookhaven Town for permission to install the plaque on a bench at the beach.

Her influence was so impactful that immediately after she resigned residents campaigned for town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) to guarantee that her position would be filled with another full-­time park ranger. Their efforts were successful and Gerle’s successor Molly Hastings took over the spot at West Meadow.

A year into the job, Hastings said the response has been nothing short of warm.

“It was really nice,” she said of when she started working at the beach. “I literally pulled up with the moving van and people were greeting me and welcoming me as I was taking the sofa and bed off of my truck.”

But Gerle’s greatest legacy lies in the students she taught, those at the ceremony said.

Aidan Donnelly, 13, was one of those who attended the educational programs Gerle organized. The newly appointed Eagle Scout was also the recipient of the William T. Hornaday badge — a prestigious award for “distinguished service in natural resource conservation,” according to the Boy Scouts of America website.

Aidan attributed the work he’s done, and the work he hopes to do as a future environmental physicist, to the lessons he learned from his mentor.

“She taught me everything I know about the beach,” he said of Gerle. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for her.”

Village park’s redesign unites North Shore community

Port Jefferson middle schoolers Erica Graci, left, and Lucas Welinder, right, display the designs they created that will be turned into two of the tiles that will grace the walls of the park. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Erin Dueñas

It’s been more than two years that a major renovation for Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson Village has been in the works, and according to former village trustee Adrienne Kessel, chair of the committee dedicated to the redesign, it all started with a light.

The overhaul of the park, formally known as the Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park, began after vandals destroyed some of its equipment, prompting the village to look into repairs in addition to added security features, according to Kessel.

“It began with a conversation about adding better lighting but that wasn’t the answer,” she said. “When we went to fix the damaged pieces, we weren’t able to find them. The equipment was obsolete.”

As chair of the Treasure Your Parks committee, which operates under the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy, Kessel looked into replacing the playground. During her research she realized that what was already in the park made it nearly impossible for anyone with a disability to enjoy it.

“You can’t even push a stroller through,” Kessel said of the sand that covers the park’s surface. “I thought about a child in a wheelchair or even a parent or guardian in a wheelchair or with a cane and how the park was not accessible to them. That had to change.” The goal for the new park is for it to be accessible to everyone, disabled or not. “Every child should have the chance to play. I couldn’t imagine a park a child couldn’t utilize,” she said.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, both newly constructed and altered facilities that accommodate the public — including recreational facilities such as playgrounds — must be readily accessible by people with disabilities. Kessel said the new park will exceed the ADA guidelines with features such as a poured ground surface that will provide easier mobility, a swing that can accommodate a wheelchair and a bridge feature that even those with limited mobility can use.

“We want everyone to have full freedom of the entire park,” Kessel said.

In addition to play features including a tree-shaped climbing piece called Robins Tree House and a play pirate ship, the park will also include sitting walls, natural looking walkways and shade trees.

The Consalvo family of Port Jefferson, who lost their daughter and sister Danielle to a drunk driver 19 years ago, donated funds to create an “enchanted” entry to the park in her memory. “When we heard about the renovation of the park, we knew this would be the perfect place to sprinkle some of her fairy dust,” said her sister Monica Consalvo.

“This timeless children’s park, which was visited by Danielle herself, brings smiles and laughter to all that visit. What was especially captivating to us was how this park would become one to include all children, not just those that easily walked onto the swing or climbed up the ladder of the slide, but to those who were challenged and needed a helpful hand. How inspiring that our small village would create a park that welcomed all and embraced the opportunity for a special needs child to swing alongside their peers,” she added.

Another planned feature also caught the attention of the Consalvo family. A three-sided, free-standing wall will be included in the park, displaying tiles that can be superimposed with artwork or commemorative messages created by members of the community.

According to Monica, Danielle not only enjoyed the park as a child but was an avid artist who was always drawing or sculpting with clay. “The connection was there,” she said.

Students from Port Jefferson Middle School, where Monica teaches special education, raised funds to purchase two mosaic tiles that would appear on the wall. She then organized a contest open to all the middle schoolers calling for original artwork that would appear on the tiles.

“We left it open as to what should be represented on the tiles. We told them what it would be used for, but they were free to put their creativity on it,” Monica said. The student body then voted on artwork entries, choosing two winning tiles last year created by now eighth-grader Erica Graci and now seventh-grader Lucas Welinder.

“What a legacy for a middle school student to have their design in the heart of our village to one day be shown to their children,” said Monica.

“As educators, we often tell our students to celebrate our differences and embrace our uniqueness, but how often do we get the opportunity to create a moment that brings this message to life?” she asked.

Danielle’s mother, Barbara Consalvo, noted that Lucas’ design struck a familiar chord with the family. “It was something very similar to what Danielle would have done. It was such a coincidence,” she said. Barbara said that her family was happy to contribute to a park her daughter used to go to. “When the opportunity presented itself, we wanted to be a part of it,” she said.

Estimates for the renovation are projected at $550,000. According to Kessel, about half of that amount has been secured, but fundraising efforts continue.

A GoFundMe site has been created and a Party for the Park Under the Harvest Moon fundraiser hosted by Ruvo, 105 Wynn Lane, and Old Fields Restaurant, 318 Wynn Lane, Port Jefferson, is scheduled for Oct. 1 from 7 to 10 p.m. The event will take place outside between the two restaurants. Rain date is Oct. 8. Tickets are $50 in advance by visiting www.rebuildrocketship.org or $60 at the door.

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Sara Leavens and Megan O’Haire hold their free pumpkins. Photo from Carole Paquette

Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve will hold its Second Annual Fall Festival on Sunday, Sept. 27. The fun-filled event will be held at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown, between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

There will be many activities geared to the natural and historical features of the Park. These include nature and birding walks led by popular local naturalists, such as Eric Powers, Four Harbors Audubon Society and Long Island Sierra Club; catch-and-release fishing for children under age 13, with worms and tackle provided; a fly-fishing demonstration; colonial and Native American games and crafts; antique cars and traditional music by popular entertainers.

Other events include: a mammal identification skull science program presented by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a pond ecology program by nature illustrator and environmental educator Ján Porinchak, a honey-bee demonstration by Donal Peterson of 3 Bees Apiary, and a presentation by Volunteers for Wildlife who will bring some rehabilitated animals. Also, Mindy Block of Quality Parks Master Naturalist Program will lead a hike and have native plants and/or seeds for sale.

There will also be face painting, a 50-50 raffle and door prizes. Free pumpkins will be given to children on a first-come, first-served basis. Food and ice cream will be for sale.

Continuous entertainment will include: Maria Fairchild and Max Rowland, and Kirsten Maxwell and Mike Tedesco.

Maria Fairchild is known as one of the top “clawhammer” (Appalachian style) banjo players in the Northeast. She is popular for her singing and engaging wit, with traditional and modern material. She teaches banjo and plays with two bands, Dance All Night and Long Island Bluegrass Quartet.

Max Rowland plays music steeped in tradition and is seen locally at venues such as Old Bethpage Village Restoration, in historical re-enactments of the Civil War and American Revolutionary periods. He plays the accordion, concertina, banjo, mandolin and autoharp and is also a member of Dance All Night.

Kirsten Maxwell’s voice and writing style have been likened to that of Joan Baez, and blends a background in classical music with elements of folk, country, and contemporary genres.

Pianist, singer-songwriter Mike Tedesco’s original music is infused with jazz, pop, rock and soul influences. Most recently he was selected to be a part of the legendary New York Songwriters Circle and will be performing at The Bitter End nightclub, as a part of the group, on Nov. 2.

Visitors to the festival will also have access to the Preserve’s Nature Museum, with its interactive exhibits in individually themed rooms with wooded or pond backdrops and mounted wildlife: the Forest Room; Pond Room; River Room and Wetlands Room; and the Who Eats Whom interactive computerized food chain puzzle.

Admission fee to the Festival is $10 per carload; there will be no parking fee. There will be designated hours for children’s fishing, the fly-fishing demonstration and face-painting.

Caleb Smith State Park Preserve is located on Jericho Turnpike, between The Bull and Old Willett’s Path. For further park information, call (631) 265-1054. For more information about the Friends and their events, check their website: www.friendsofcalebsmith.org.

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A night heron sits at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The intersection of Main Street and Old Field Road in Setauket marks the entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Park. The horseshoe-shaped park, completed in 1937 includes extensive plantings, a simulated gristmill, a magnificent view of Conscience Bay and the cottage of the last Setauket miller Everett Hawkins. From the park there is an entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation Sanctuary grounds with its extensive nature paths.

This past month the park and sanctuary suffered a great deal of damage from the storm that devastated a narrow area on the North Shore from Smithtown to Port Jefferson. The park has worked hard to clear debris and bring the park back to its beautiful condition. Please explore the park this month and consider becoming a member of the Friends of the Park. 

The Setauket Millpond was a center of commerce for the community from the time it was settled in 1655 until early in the 20th century. It is easy to imagine almost any time in Setauket history while in the park. Looking out over the milldam, Conscience Bay reflects the 8,000 years the Native Americans lived here before the English settlers came to Setauket. The mill tells the story of the farmer grinding grain in the 1700s. The restored barn remembers the horse “Smokey” and speaks of a 19th-century horse and carriage. The stone bridge relates how an immigrant great-grandson came to Setauket and gave it an image of the countryside of rural England and Europe with a park.

Just after dawn the Setauket Mill Pond shimmers with morning mist and reflects the early morning sky and the trees that partly surround it. Walking along the path in the Frank Melville Memorial Park, the only sounds, except for the occasional car going by, are the birds in the trees and the ducks in the pond. They contrast with the greens, browns and grays of early morning. The contemplative surroundings start the day with the beauty of God’s creation and give perspective to the rest of the day.

The following prose was written by the author:

Birdsong
Spring, the park at morning.
Woodpeckers rat-a-tat, the woosh of wings — Canadian geese, a soft grouse call is heard.
Birdsong, first near and then far, across the pond.
Birdsong left and right.
A gentle breeze turns the pond to silver, moving patterns of dark and light.
The background sound of water flowing over the milldam and into the bay.
Pairs of mallards glide slowly across the pond.
The trumpet call of geese announces flight as they rise from the pond and fly across the milldam, across the march and into the bay.
Trees surround the pond with patterns of greens of every shade.
Dark evergreens and climbing vines.
Bright green beech and silver-green sycamore.
Patches of white dogwood adding depth and contrast.
A heron glides effortlessly across the surface of the pond, rises and disappears into the cover of a black birch tree.
I am overwhelmed by gentle sounds and contrasting scenery, by muted colors in every shade and texture.
Blue-white sky and blue-green water.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

Still digging out from early August wind, rain storm that rocked parts of greater Three Village community

John Morgan, above, from Impact Environmental, clears branches from the entrance of the park at Trustees Park in Poquott. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In the aftermath of the powerful early-morning storm that hit the North Shore on Aug. 4, organizations and volunteers, like Impact Environmental and Ward Melville High School ice hockey students, are battling fallen trees and branches as they cleanup areas like Trustees Park in Poquott.

The volunteers began cutting trees, picking up debris and clearing areas of the park around 9 a.m. on Friday. Few people have used the park for recreational purposes since the storm, as broken trees, branches and other debris still blocked the park’s main entrance. Nick Pisano, a Ward Melville High School student, said he “doubts that [they] could finish [cleaning] today.”

Impact environmental worker Frank DeVivo agreed with Pisano.

“There’s a lot in there and we have several people [helping clear the debris], so we’ll be able to get it done,” DeVivo said. “It’s just a matter of time and organization.”

Two weeks ago, on Aug. 13, Poquott residents voiced their concerns regarding how storm-damaged areas of the village were being cleared following the storm. But clearing those areas, including the park, was difficult. Clearing the park alone cost Impact Environmental around $8,000.

“The village has no money to do any of the prep work,” Richard Parrish, president and CEO of Impact Environmental said. “So we made a decision that Impact Environmental would pay [to clear the park].” This is something we do to help out the village,” Parrish said.

Earlier Friday, the debris extended several feet in front of the park’s entrance. According to Impact Environmental worker John Morgan, the volunteers started their day fighting to clear branches and twigs to clear the area in front of the entrance. Morgan also said he helped clear an additional path by the entrance. With the path cleared, Morgan and the other volunteers could continue picking up debris, including pieces of a 30 to 35 foot birch tree that broke off during the storm.

Morgan cut the broken tree into several pieces, making it easier to clear the main entrance area. Morgan, like Parrish and the other volunteers, was happy to help the community, saying that making others happy made him happy. DeVivo had a similar response regarding clearing the park’s entranceway.

“This is a really well-used park, and they enjoy the ability to get to their tennis courts, and they enjoy the ability to take nice walks,” DeVivo said. “So it’s good to be able to come out here and help out, and help clean it up and get it back to functionality.”

Mayor Delores Parrish also joined the volunteers, later in the day, to help clean and move trees and other debris from the park. According to Richard Parrish, the mayor was bringing a larger vehicle to help transport debris to a landfill.

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Huntington Town Board is considering partnering with Suffolk County to buy the development rights of a Greenlawn Christmas tree farm.

The board held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss a plan to buy a conservation easement and the development rights of the Tilden Lane Farm on Wyckoff Street in Greenlawn. The Tilden family has operated the farm for generations, and the property has been recognized as a National Bicentennial Farm for its more than 200 years of continuous farm use.

The town would use money from its Environmental Open Space and Park Fund and would split the cost with Suffolk County, according to a Town Board resolution.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said the legislator supports the move: “Few and far between are there opportunities in this district to have open space preservation, so he is in support of this.”

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who sponsored the measure, said he brought it forward because it was a “win-win” in that it offers the possibility to preserve the land, but also allows the Christmas tree operation to continue. Cuthbertson said he’s frequented the farm on occasions.

“It costs us less to outright purchase and allows something that’s a very compatible use to continue,” he said.

Asked how much the development rights would cost, Cuthbertson said the town is at the “beginning stages” of that process.

At this week’s public hearing, members of the Tilden family urged the board to move forward with the acquisition of the development rights, which would preserve the property as farmland forever. Six years ago, the town and county made an offer to buy the rights, and an appraisal of the property was done, but the farm’s owner at the time turned the offer down, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.

The opportunity came up again when the current heirs became interested in selling the land.

“We’re trying to keep our Christmas tree operation going,” Bruce Tilden said. “We’re thankful the town is supporting this endeavor and we’re looking forward to keep it going.”

Neighbor Jane Irving also urged the board to move forward with the purchase, noting that the Tilden family “has always been good neighbors.”

“Isn’t it wonderful that the Town of Huntington has a working tree farm within the town borders?”

Spencer’s spokesperson said the development rights purchase would be reviewed by the county’s farmland committee on Sept. 15.

A recently released quail sits on a log at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

A record number of bobwhite quails were released this year, and many of the students, teachers and parents who raised the birds helped welcome them to Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown on Saturday.

For 12 years, Eric Powers, a biologist and wildlife educator, has been at the forefront of organizing the annual quail release at Caleb Smith and other parks in the area. He described this year’s event as the largest one yet, as a record number of schools raised the quail chicks and 1,400 quails were released.

“The idea of bringing back the quail is to bring balance back to our ecosystem,” Powers said at the rainy morning release.

Unlike nonnative guinea fowl, which “eat good wildlife” like salamanders and dragonflies, northern bobwhite quail are native to Long Island and play a vital role in controlling tick populations without harming other native species, according to Powers.

Children and parents watch quail being released. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Children and parents watch quail being released. Photo by Talia Amorosano

Those in attendance included volunteers, students, teachers and Long Island comedian Joey Kola, who said that he “saw this program and jumped on right away” after personally experiencing Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a tick-borne illness transmitted to humans through a tick bite.

Attendees initially gathered inside the park’s nature museum, where they learned about the quail, viewed preserved eggs and touched feather samples before listening to Powers’ talk.

“What we see is we get this immediate clearing of ticks [after the quail are released],” Powers said, but “cats are outright hammering these birds.”

Powers described indoor-outdoor cats as the biggest threat to quail upon their release, and suggested people make use of what he referred to as “catios” — enclosed patios where cats can get outside without hunting native animals.

However, because this is the first year the Caleb Smith quail cage has reached overcapacity — forcing a few hundred quail to be released earlier — Powers is optimistic the quail population may begin to take hold on its own if school and community participation continues to increase.

Kids and adults alike were certainly enthusiastic about the release, as they gathered in the pouring rain to watch 500 birds abandon their cage and taste freedom for the first time. The quail were tentative at first, but as soon as one group took flight others ran through the crowd and into the woods. The remaining quail were released later on in the day.

A few observers got a truly interactive experience when frantic quail landed on their umbrellas and even perched on their arms. And after the initial release, teachers and students took boxes of quail to various locations around the park and carried out their own private releases.

Only time will tell how many of the birds will survive in the wild, but with increased community awareness that quail have the potential to lower the population of disease-ridden ticks, and a better understanding of the dangers posed to quail by cats, it seems likely that the birds most recently released will have a better chance of survival than those released in the past.