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Smith Point County Park

Familia Mendez and family, of Huntington Station, took the trek out to Jones Beach for its annual light show this year. Photo from Mendez

By Angela Palumbo

No matter where one may be on Long Island, there is a drive-thru light show available for you, but make sure to plan some extra time when thinking about attending.

The space above spectators heads glows at the Jones Beach Miracle of Lights display. Photo by Angela Palumbo

Long Islanders are eager to participate in holiday fun, but with the coronavirus pandemic causing the shutdown of many holiday activities, more and more locals are looking for events that are COVID safe and fun for the whole family.

With people turning to holiday light displays to get into the holiday spirit this year, the vast amount of people going to the displays seems to be causing longer wait times than usual.

With the most popular Long Island display being the Jones Beach Magic of Light’s show, normally, hundreds of thousands of people take the trek to Nassau for the colorful, festive experience.

“The $25.00 was well worth the money, especially since it was a safe way to experience some holiday spirit during COVID,” said Christina Seaman Meixsell, from Northport. “It was totally worth it.”

Familia Mendez, from Huntington Station, said she also enjoyed bringing her family to Jones Beach this year.

“We went two years ago to the same show and we decided to go again this year and my kids were thrilled and happy to go,” Mendez said. “The lights and decorations made us feel the feeling of Christmas. They have done an awesome job.”

But is the Jones Beach Magic of Lights display the best option for all Long Islanders? Even with its popularity and success, the Jones Beach show has run into issues this year with longer lines than usual.

Jenna Schmitt from Rockaway, Queens, tried to go to the show on Dec 5, but because of the long line, she and the people she travelled with had to turn around in the middle of waiting.

“We went there at 8:45 p.m. and the opposite side of the parkway was backed up all the way to where the line started,” Schmitt said. “Then, we decided that it wasn’t worth the wait, but we had to sit in an hour and a half of traffic to finally be able to get off of it.”

Because so many people tried to leave the long line, Schmitt said her car never made it to the turnaround, and herself and other cars drove on the grass and took a side street to exit.

Some locals have decided to go to other shows on Long Island that are closer to their homes and less popular to avoid the wait.

One of several light-based creations of the Smith Point Light Show. Photo from Smith Point Light Show website

Alexandra Wasser from Dix Hills prefers the Smith Point Light Show located in Shirley, a smaller display compared to the Jones Beach Magic of Lights Show.

“It brings a jolly mind set to you and it really brings a lot of joy to the Christmas season,” Wasser said. “It’s just a nice way to spend time with family and friends. It’s a quick little bonding holiday activity. It’s great during COVID because you just have to sit in the car and it’s safe.”

The Smith Point Light Show has been a part of the Long Island community for 17 years and is run by the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County and the office of the Suffolk County Executive.

“Planning for the Smith Point Light Show begins in January,” said Tammy Severino, representative of Girl Scouts of Suffolk County. “We work with our light display company to choose our displays for December. We also work closely with the County of Suffolk to ensure all permits and safety measures are in place.”

According to Severino, over 55,000 people attended the Smith Point light show last year. With Long Islanders looking for holiday activities that are COVID safe, event organizers are expecting more people to attend the show than ever before. The Smith Point light show has taken measures to manage potentially longer wait lines than usual.

“Visitors have the choice of pre-purchasing tickets that can be used for any date and time that the show is open, so the option to attend earlier in the week during less-busy times is always available,” Severino said. “Additionally, we have security personnel managing the line and we open a second ticket window on busy nights to facilitate traffic flow into the show.”

Another light show on Long Island is the Riverhead Holiday Light Show, located in Calverton. This show takes place Thursday through Sunday until Dec 21, when it will run every day that week leading up to Dec. 30. Unlike the Magic of Lights show at Jones Beach and the Smith Point Light Show in Shirley, only cars can come through the Riverhead Holiday Light Show, excluding buses and limos.

To avoid long wait times for any of these displays, all of the shows sell tickets in advance and encourage attendees to come during the week.

Angela Palumbo is a Long Island native and recent college graduate from SUNY Cortland with a degree in communications and journalism with a minor in professional writing. Angela is currently studying remotely at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism for her masters in journalism with a concentration in business and economic reporting. 

Stock photo

As a part of a drive-in movie series, Smith Point County Beach will show the movie “Jaws” on June 20, 45 years after the Steven Spielberg-directed film terrified theater goers throughout a country a year removed from a gas crisis that appears tame by comparison to the confluence of today’s challenges.

“Hopefully that will be an experience people will enjoy with their families,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “Hopefully, they will enjoy it in a safe way.”

Suffolk County is approaching the end of its first full week in Phase One of an economic reopening, even as emotions run high in the county, the country and the world after the killing of George Floyd by a now-fired Minneapolis police officer who is now facing murder charges.

Group gatherings, even peaceful protests, themselves pose a health risk to attendees as researchers continue to try to develop a vaccine for a virus that threatens the health and lives of residents, particularly those with underlying medical conditions.

“We are always going to be concerned with people coming together in large gatherings, where they are not practicing social distancing,” Bellone said. “We want people to protest and express their First Amendment rights, but we want to do it safely.”

The county executive again thanked the community for peaceful expressions throughout the efforts to restart the economy and as protests in urban areas have, at times, led to violent confrontations with police and to rioting and looting.

Bellone said the Suffolk County Police Department is taking the approach that the officers are a part of the community and are not just in place to restrict or police others.

“When people are out there protesting because they have a message they want to get across, ‘We are there to make sure they are safe,’” Bellone said.

While officials remain concerned about the possibility of larger gatherings leading to resurgence of the virus after hard-won gains during the deadly month of April, they are also willing to change their guidance if such gatherings don’t lead to an increase in infections or put a strain on the recovering health care system.

The county can look at these gatherings and see how they affect public health, Bellone said. “We can take something away from that,” he said.

Still, the county executive said he urges residents not to become too cavalier about following rules that have led to an improvement in the overall health of the county, albeit at the cost of a slowed economy and an increase in unemployment.

“After being cooped up for so long” with all the devastation from the effort to flatten the curve and save people’s lives, residents need to think about “how to prevent sliding back in any way,” Bellone urged. “If people continue to be smart and exercise caution, we can reopen our economy safely. We need the public to continue to be smart.”

Viral Figures

The number of new positive tests for COVID-19 was 62, bringing the total to 39,705. That doesn’t include the 14,138 people who have tested positive for the antibody.

The number of people in the hospital with the virus, a figure no one in the health care system over the course of the year is likely to ever take for granted, declined by 16 to 253.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit also declined seven to 67.

The percentage of hospital beds and ICU beds with COVID-19 patients, meanwhile, was at 62 and 63, respectively, which are well below the original target of 70 percent or lower.

Another 25 people were discharged from the hospital over the last day.

The number of people who died from complications related to COVID-19 climbed by five to 1,906.

The county distributed another 24,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the last day. That total has reached over 5.7 million since the pandemic reached the shores of Long Island.

Kenneth Kindler, on right, leads hikers through the new Ray Corwin Trail in the Central Pine Barrens. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new Pine Barrens trail bears the name of Ray Corwin, the first director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission. Those who remember him said he was as calm, yet grand as the woods he loved so much.

“Ray Corwin was a friend, but he was also an inspiration,” state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said. “This trail is an invitation, [like he did], for people to get involved.”

Ray Corwin was the first and 17-year executive director for the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission. File photo

The Port Jefferson resident passed away suddenly in 2010 at the age of 56. People who knew him said he worked day and night for 17 years to protect the approximately 50,000 acres of the Pine Barrens core, as well as preserve the natural beauty and resources of the area.

In the late 1980’s, Corwin envisioned a trail that would go from Route 25A in Shoreham all the way down to Smith Point County Park in Shirley, according David Reisfield, president of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference. Corwin was also active for more than 25 years in the greenbelt conference, a hiking and preservation group, and was the group’s vice president at the time of his death.

“We are at this point trying to bring his dream to life,” Reisfield said. “Even as we stop at Yaphank now, we will eventually work our way all the way down to Smith’s Point. We’ll bring his dream to fruition.”

Local officials and environmental advocates came together at the Ridge Trailhead to officially open the new 12.1-mile trail from Rocky Point to Yaphank bearing Corwin’s name April 28.

When years of court battles over Suffolk’s pine barrens resulted in a 1993 state law creating Long Island’s 100,000-acre pine barren preserve, environmentalist Richard Amper said there was only one man both sides trusted to oversee the new sanctuary, and that was Corwin.

“I don’t think we would have advanced the Pine Barrens cause as quickly as we did without someone like Ray Corwin.”

— Ken LaValle

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said the knowledge of the jogger and veteran hiker, the first executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, could never be replaced.

“I don’t think we would have advanced the Pine Barrens cause as quickly as we did without someone like Ray Corwin,” LaValle said. “It’s great to recognize such a great man, and even though it took eight years, it’s never too late to recognize someone who gave us so much.”

The Ray Corwin Trail connects to existing trails that start just off Route 25A in Rocky Point. The new walkthrough boasts sights of the glacial erratic boulder known as “Turtle Rock;” the Warbler Woods, which are home to more than 30 species of warblers; a pitch-pine/oak forest; a red maple/black gum swamp; and the colonial-era Longwood Estate.

“We’re a sole source aquifer and it’s so important to protect those lands, because that’s our drinking water,” said John Wernet, forester for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Reisfield said the project took so long because those working on it had to work with the DEC, local governments and the Town of Brookhaven, much in the way Corwin did when he was alive.

The ribbon-cutting, done by state Sen. Ken LaValle, unveiled the new Ray Corwin Trail. Photo by Kyle Barr

In his past, Corwin was originally responsible for developing a management plan for protecting the 50,000 acres in the pine barrens core, which cannot be built on, and enforcing rules of that plan and state legislation for regulating development in the 47,000-acre compatible growth area. Before taking the helm of the pine barrens commission, he had worked as a computer scientist and mathematician for Grumman Corp.

“This trail epitomizes what Ray tried to accomplish,” said John Pavacic, the current executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Commission. “It’s something that took work across all areas of government, as well as local groups.”

Creating a trail, according to trail advocate Kenneth Kindler, is as much engineering, planning and maintaining as it is using the area’s natural landscape to define the trail’s shape. He said that Corwin brought environmentalists and local officials together to protect the Pine Barrens.

“I remember him telling me once that I was focused too much on ATV’s ruining the trail’s ground,” Kindler said. “He said we couldn’t alienate people — that we needed as many people as we could to get involved. That was just the type of person he was. He was a people person — he could bring people together.”

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The Girls Scouts of Suffolk County and County Executive Steve Bellone (D) will present a Holiday drive-thru Light Show at Smith Point County Park, County Road 46, Shirley through Dec. 23. Now in its 13th year with a new location, the light show is better than ever with more lights, more displays and more festive family fun! Hours through Dec. 17 are Monday to Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. Hours from Dec. 18 to 23 are 5 to 11 p.m. $20 per car. Credit card only at the gate. For more information, call 631-543-6622 or visit www.holidaylightshow.org.