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Sunken Meadow

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A more recent photo of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park shows the love locks have been stripped. Photo by Susan Risoli

By Susan Risoli

To all the couples who attached padlocks to a footbridge in Sunken Meadow State Park: sorry, sweethearts. Your public declarations of love were removed recently by the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Views of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park, where lovebirds once saw locks representing their permanent affection. Photo by Susan Risoli
Views of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park, where lovebirds once saw locks representing their permanent affection. Photo by Susan Risoli

Lovers worldwide have embraced the tradition of decorating locks with initials and other symbols of partnership, and ceremoniously attaching them to bridges. Fearing that locks would weaken structures and make them unsafe, municipalities have been removing the tokens of love. Twenty-two love locks were recently taken off the footbridge at the end of Sunken Meadow’s parking field 3. The New York City Department of Transportation removed 450 locks from the Brooklyn Bridge in April. And officials in Paris have been prying locks off bridges that span the River Seine.

A recent visit to Sunken Meadow revealed a barren bridge stripped of the locks that adorned it earlier this year. Only one lonely testament to love remained – a heart scratched into the metal railing, bearing the message “LW + GE.”

State Parks spokesman Randy Simons said in an email Tuesday that the Parks Department was concerned that, over time, an increasing number of locks could add unsafe weight to the bridge. Locks can get rusted, and that could also affect the bridge, Simons said.

Those who put a love lock on the bridge and want their memento back, he said, can pick it up at the Sunken Meadow park office.

“We encourage our visitors to express their friendship and love in other ways that do not interfere with others’ enjoyment of the natural setting and park property,” Simons said. Going forward, if park officials see anyone attaching a lock to the bridge, “We would explain to the individual or individuals that this is not permitted and have them remove the locks,” he said. “We do not see locks being placed on any of our bridges in the future.”

Views of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park, where lovebirds once saw locks representing their permanent affection. Photo by Susan Risoli
Views of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park, where lovebirds once saw locks representing their permanent affection. Photo by Susan Risoli

The Parks Department hasn’t seen love locks at any other state parks, Simons said.

The New York City Department of Transportation has been taking love locks off the city’s bridges since 2013, said a DOT spokesperson in an email Tuesday. She said the department removed 9,363 locks this year, from January through the end of September.

“Locks pose a safety risk for those using the Brooklyn Bridge and are not allowed,” she said. “We strongly discourage visitors from leaving locks on our bridges as it poses a danger to the infrastructure and the cars traveling below.”

“We ask that all visitors to the Brooklyn Bridge and other bridges across the city help keep our landmarks clean and in a state of good repair.”

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The Middle Country girls’ cross country team poses for a group photo at Sunken Meadow State Park. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Middle Country girls’ cross country squad were handed the victory by forfeit, as they took on Commack Tuesday afternoon at Sunken Meadow State Park. Both teams were released together as the pack disappeared over the wooden footbridge for the 2.7-mile event, but Commack ran the wrong course, leaving the Mad Dogs the victors by a score of 50-15.

It was a multischool meet with schools from all over Suffolk County pairing off in front of a large crowd of onlookers.

Camila McCusker runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon
Camila McCusker runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon

Middle Country head coach Bill King said both teams were evenly matched and knew the meet would be determined by a couple of points. Nearly 20 minutes after the start of the race, the best runners of the day turned the corner and headed down the home stretch. The only problem was, it was only Commack crossing the finish line, without a Middle Country runner in sight.

King said he couldn’t understand the disparity, and Middle Country senior Olivia Rogers said the Commack runners didn’t complete the same course that her team ran.

“The times are a little messed up because Commack ran a different course than we did,” the co-captain said. “We ran a different distance than they did —  they took a shortcut, so I don’t know if there’s even going to be a score.”

It turns out that King’s suspicion was right, and after a lengthy postrace investigation, the Commack runners were found to have turned off the official race route and ran a shorter distance. The Commack head coach admitted his team’s mistake and handed the victory to Middle Country.

“It should’ve been a very close meet, but I knew something was wrong when I saw them coming in one, two, three and four,” King said. “It should’ve been much closer, and the difference should have only been a couple of points [between us].”

But before the dust settled, the first across the finish line for Middle Country was senior Samantha Plunkett, who said she wasn’t happy with her performance because she had done better at her previous meet.

Samantha Plunkett runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon
Samantha Plunkett runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’ve run faster than I did today, so it wasn’t my best,” she said. “I ran faster two weeks ago when we versed Lindenhurst, but today, the conditions were OK.”

Crossing the line in second was sophomore Camila McCusker, who has similar feelings as Plunkett regarding her own performance.

“Today wasn’t my best — I was a couple of seconds off,” McCusker said. “It was a little hotter today than normal.”

Crossing the line for third was Rogers, followed by sophomore Kayla Juran, and finishing in the final points paying position was eighth-grader Nevaeh Kallon.

“We have a close group of girls — [myself], Camila McCusker, Kayla Juran and Samantha Plunkett,” Rogers said. “The team we versed last time was Sachem East, I think they’re the best in the county, so they pushed us really hard. We wanted to stay as close as we could with them; gain some respect.”

Middle Country competed with just nine girls, where most other teams field many more runners. King said that his team puts the emphasis on quality, not quantity.

With the win, Middle Country improves to 3-1 in League II and hits the road next for a tri-meet with Sachem North and Central Islip on Tuesday at Sunken Meadow State Park at 4 p.m.

Melina Silsbe mugshot from SCPD

An arrested woman escaped officers, stole an ambulette and crashed it on the Sunken Meadow State Parkway on Thursday evening, according to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Police said 24-year-old Melina Silsbe was arrested the day before on numerous misdemeanor warrants and one felony warrant, but was taken from the precinct to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown for treatment of a medical condition.

An officer was assigned to guard her, but Silsbe allegedly slipped out of her restraints and fled the hospital, allegedly stealing an unoccupied ambulette that had been left running in front of St. Catherine’s main entrance. The suspect’s escape kicked off a police pursuit through Commack, along Jericho Turnpike and then onto the highway.

Police said during the pursuit Silsbe, driving the ambulette, crashed into another vehicle on the Sunken Meadow and then was taken back into police custody.

She faces added charges of second-degree escape, fourth-degree grand larceny, fourth-degree criminal mischief, reckless driving, second-degree reckless endangerment and unlawfully fleeing a police officer.

Attorney information for Silsbe was not immediately available Friday.

The suspect was treated for minor injuries at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore following the crash and was released.

Police said the other vehicle’s driver was not hurt.

Water quality monitors take samples and check for bacteria. Photo from Sarah Ganong

It wasn’t pretty, but it was still pretty necessary.

More than 50 volunteers came together over the weekend to plant an acre of native Spartina cordgrass at Sunken Meadow State Park in Smithtown. The planting event was one of the first major public steps in a multiyear grant to restore river and marsh habitat and strengthen the park’s resilience to severe storms.

The $2.5 million project is funded by the Hurricane Sandy Competitive Grant Program and administered by Save the Sound with a team of governmental and nonprofit partners. Sunken Meadow State Park comprises 1,300 acres including the mouth of the Nissequogue River, salt and tidal marshes, dunes, coastal forest and three miles of Long Island Sound beachfront. Attracting over 2 million visitors a year, it is often dubbed the most popular state park in the New York City metro area.

Historically, Sunken Meadow Creek connected over 120 acres of marsh habitat with the Nissequogue estuary and the Sound, but in the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers built an earthen dike across the creek, restricting its tidal flow and fundamentally changing the marsh’s plant community, a spokeswoman for Save the Sound said. The Sunken Meadow Restoration team has been working since 2008 to restore tidal flow to the creek. Hurricane Sandy hit the park in October 2012. Its storm surge blew through the dike, fully reconnecting the marsh to the estuary for the first time in 60 years.

Volunteers take to Sunken Meadow State Park on Sunday to plant seeds for the future. Photo from Sarah Ganong
Volunteers take to Sunken Meadow State Park on Sunday to plant seeds for the future. Photo from Sarah Ganong

“Now that tidal flow is restored to Sunken Meadow Creek, we’re excited to combine marsh restoration, green infrastructure and public education to have an even greater impact,” said Gwen Macdonald, habitat restoration director for Save the Sound, a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “It’s an amazing opportunity to show millions of people what a comprehensive program for a healthy coastal ecosystem can look like, with less water pollution, better tidal flow and vibrant marshes for thriving bird, fish and wildlife populations.”

Several environmental groups from state and local levels joined forces starting in 2012 to develop a plan to build on this reconnection and prepare the park’s ecosystem for future storms. The Sunken Meadow Comprehensive Resilience and Restoration Plan was established to manage stormwater, bulk up resilience of the marshes, explore improvements to riverine habitat and improve public knowledge and understanding of the ecological communites at the park.

“Today’s planting event is a first step in restoring historic tidal wetlands at Sunken Meadow State Park,” said Amanda Bassow, director of the northeastern regional office for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“We are thrilled to be able to support this project in partnership with the Department of the Interior through the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program. The project will provide many benefits including strengthening natural coastal buffers to large storms, increasing wildlife habitat and improving water quality in the park and the surrounding waters of Long Island Sound.”

Sunday’s planting was not the only activity at the park this summer. New York Parks Department and Save the Sound have hired a summer education staffer to engage tourists and local students around issues of native versus invasive species, stormwater runoff, climate change preparedness and other topics, with a focus on opening opportunities for young nature lovers to become citizen-scientists.

The next step in the project, according to Save the Sound, is designing green infrastructure solutions for a 12-acre parking lot that drains into Sunken Meadow Creek. Incorporating stormwater best management practices in the design will reduce the pollutants that run off the parking lot and allow water to percolate into the ground, improving water quality in the creek for the wildlife that calls it home.

Sunken Meadow State Park Director Jeffrey J. Mason meets Smithtown West High School's Rachel Gladstone to review plans for the Sunken Meadow Recycling Project 5K Race and 1/2 Mile Fun Run for Kids. Photo from Allison Gayne

A Smithtown West High School junior is going the extra mile and hosting a recycling project in the form of a 5-kilometer race at Sunken Meadow State Park in June to promote a greener mindset across Long Island.

Rachel Gladstone, 17, has arranged the first ever Sunken Meadow Recycling Project 5K Race and 1/2 Mile Fun Run for Kids at Sunken Meadow State Park as her community project for the Girl Scout Gold Award she is working toward.

“I wanted to do something for the community at Sunken Meadow [State Park],” Gladstone said in a phone interview. “I really wanted to do something big and worthwhile.”

The cross-country runner said the idea came to her while passing through the park and seeing just how many recyclables were being thrown into the trash. She coupled that knowledge with knowing the park hosts several races, and let the two notions work together to form her own unique project.

“Every time I go there, I see trash cans always full to the top with bottles,” Gladstone said.

Gladstone said one of her biggest goals is to take the money raised at the run and buy recycling bins to place at various locations throughout the 1288-acre park and to also help promote recycling behavior by taking extra measures to make the bins visible to the public.

The teen said she is very big into environmental science and recycling, and she hopes to study it at the college level once she graduates form high school. Her mom, Ellyn Gladstone, said her daughter has been interested in recycling since an early age and she is happy to see her putting this project together.

The Gold Award that Gladstone is working so hard toward is the highest achievement in girl scouting, she said. It is a seven-step project that challenges the scout to change the world, and requires a minimum 80 hours of work — something Gladstone is sure to surpass as she continues to organize and promote the race.

According to one of Gladstone’s troop leaders, Paula Rybacki, the high school student has achieved all the major awards since becoming a girl scout in elementary school and the project she is working on is one of the biggest she has seen.

“This project is very different,” Rybacki said. “I’m really proud of her.”

Jeffrey Mason, the park director at Sunken Meadow State Park, said he was approached by Gladstone, who was hoping to make a difference, and he quickly got on board with the idea as he understands the six bins the park has now is not enough.

“We’re going to put them out in key locations and find the best fit where they get utilized,” Mason said. “We are going to start out small, the more people see, the more education.”

The event will kick off on June 13 with its 1/2 Mile Fun Run for Kids at 9:15 a.m. followed by the 5-kilometer run at 10 a.m. An award ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. to recognize top overall males and females in various age groups.

Race participants can take advantage of an early bird special entry fee of $20 until May 1. After that the fee is $25 until the day before the race. On the day of the race, runners will pay $30 to participate.

Smithtown has been doing its part to increase the frequency and accessibility of recycling, recently inking a deal with several neighboring municipalities to bring single-stream recycling to residents across the Island.

The various deals help Smithtown team up with other communities to share resources, making it easier for residents to recycle in one bin and have the items transferred at a minimal cost.

The town has already linked up with Brookhaven, the incorporated villages of Lloyd Harbor and Asharoken, to name a few.

And as the race approaches, Gladstone said she hopes this is just the beginning of a greater shift in recycling across the Island. She said she would like to hold a similar event annually at parks across Long Island to help promote recycling.

“I realize I’m not too young to make a difference,” Gladstone said. “This is just the beginning.”