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Three Village Community Trust

David Prestia, third from right, at the 2019 Three Village Community Trust annual gala. Photo from David Prestia

By Leah Chiappino

For David Prestia, the owner of Bagel Express in Setauket, being part of the Three Village area is more than being a business owner, he also gets involved in the community.

He consistently takes time out of his schedule to give back to the area in the form of donations, volunteerism and community engagement. He’s the machine behind the hot chocolate at the Three Village Electric Holiday Parade and the cook at the annual Three Village Chamber of Commerce Barbecue at West Meadow Beach.

Having grown up with a family who owned an Italian deli, Prestia says he was the only one of four brothers who didn’t work in the deli when he was growing up. However, after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. John’s University in Queens, he began working with his father and fell in love with the food business. He then opened Fratelli’s Market Place in Astoria, Queens, and expanded it to locations in Roslyn, Forest Hills, Manhattan and Stony Brook village.

“David brings a businessperson’s perspective to trust operations along with his good humor and enthusiasm for our preservation mission.”

– Robert Reuter

When he first moved to Setauket 30 years ago, he jumped on the opportunity to open a bagel store. He has owned Bagel Express in Setauket, along with his partner Eric Keller and brother Michael Prestia, ever since. Having sold Fratelli’s Market Place, his focus is running the Setauket location, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and supplying Bagel Express in Smithtown and Sayville.

While running his business, he manages to contribute to the community and is on the board of the Three Village Community Trust, a not-for-profit land trust. Vice President Robert Reuter said Prestia has been instrumental in the business aspect of the organization.

“David brings a businessperson’s perspective to trust operations along with his good humor and enthusiasm for our preservation mission,” he said. “He shares that interest with his considerable network of friends and associates who know his dedication to our community and the result has been many new supporters.”

Having been a history major in college, Prestia said the rich history is one of his favorite things about the Three Village area, which inspired him to get involved in the Three Village Historical Society. He has donated food for the annual Candlelight House Tour for the past several years.

“Usually, if you ask, [Prestia] will donate, ” said Steve Healy, the president of the historical society. “People like Dave are not just in the community; they are the community. He is always willing to roll up his sleeves and help out.”

Prestia is also on the board of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and involved with Seawolves United at Stony Brook University. He has sponsored Staller Center for the Arts receptions and the food concession at university basketball games. For the local business owner, getting involved was simply not a question.

“I’m very lucky,” Prestia said. “We’ve been successful with the business. It’s so important to give back to the community. There are so many things going on all the time. It’s a great place to raise a family, and the schools are wonderful. We’re so lucky to live here.”

 

The Old Field Club, 86 West Meadow Road, E. Setauket will host the Three Village Community Trust’s 15th annual celebration, An Evening with Alan Inkles, on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The trust’s annual gala is a celebration of the trust’s achievements over the past years, recent acquisitions and continuing restoration projects as well as its major fundraiser of the year.

Alan Inkles

Inkles, the director of Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, will present an engaging talk on the “Survival of the Arts,” sharing stories from his more than three decades of experience at the inner workings of an arts center, the constant development in efforts to engage audiences for the cultural arts and how the Staller Center manages to grow its success.

A highlight of the evening will be the drawing for a pair of tickets to “Hamilton.” The winner can select day and time (with two or three alternative dates), and the prize includes free door-to-door limo service. Tickets are $100 each, and only 100 tickets will be sold.  To purchase a chance on this drawing, visit www.threevillagecommunitytrust.org/hamilton.

The festive evening will also feature a raffle for works by local artists in addition to featured artist Eleanor Meier’s watercolor, Homage to Tillie. Raffle tickets are $25 each and only 200 will be sold. 

Admission to the gala is $60 per person and includes wine, a sumptuous buffet provided by the Old Field Club, desserts, prizes and live music by Carl Safina and the Three Village Vanguard Trio.  

To RSVP, please call 631-689-0225 or email tvcommtrust@optonline.net.

A male box turtle, above, approximately 30 years old, was discovered in Patriots Hollow State Forest. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

Scientists have discovered natural wonders in a Setauket forest.

Researcher Luke Gervase stands between a couple of the large trees found in Patriots Hollow State Forest. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

Researchers from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry took to the 43-acre woods of Patriots Hollow State Forest, along Route 25A, across from Stop & Shop, to collect information on the forest composition and structure Aug. 8 and 9. The researchers hoped to develop management recommendations that would enhance the forest for biodiversity conservation and environmental education. The survey was funded by a grant from Avalon Park & Preserve, according to a press release from Three Village Community Trust.

In 2018, the community trust set up a steering committee led by Setauket resident and former teacher Leonard Carolan to clean up the woods and add a trail for people to walk through the forest, something which is currently difficult with downed trees and invasive plants, including Norway maple, Japanese aralia, Oriental bittersweet, black locust and Japanese stiltgrass.

After Carolan approached the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to seek help in cleaning up the forest, the community trust signed a stewardship agreement with the DEC. Carolan said the initial reports are encouraging.

“It looks like we’ll be able to restore it to an original native forest,” Carolan said.

He added that, in the future, there would be a loop trail near Route 25A and another one near the Main Street section, but before they are created some cleanup needs to be done and funds raised, which could take years.

Don Leopold, distinguished teaching professor from SUNY-ESF’s Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, along with research assistant Samuel Quinn, was among the researchers.

Leopold said it was his first visit to the forest, and he was impressed with the findings. Despite invasive plants and past agriculture that didn’t leave many remnant trees, he said they discovered many beautiful oak and hickory trees, adding that he had seen black oak and sassafras all over the Eastern United States, and amongst the largest he has seen were in Patriots Hollow.

“We went by some really great trees,” he said. “Ideally the trails will swing by those. They can’t miss these. There are really impressive specimens of some black oaks and some hickories, and we really enjoyed seeing them.”

Researcher Luke Gervase stands by a sassafras tree found in Patriots Hollow State Forest. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

The researcher said they also found spicebush in the forest.

“Spicebush is one of our most important native shrubs,” Leopold said. “It’s so important for wildlife coming for food. It’s a source of food for the spicebush swallowtail [butterfly].”

Leopold and Quinn discussed management of invasive plants in the forest with Bill Jacobs, Luke Gervase and Caroline Schnabl of Long Island Invasive Species Management Area who joined in the survey. Leopold said that they are optimistic that the invasives could be eliminated, which is vital for the growth of new trees.

Leopold added that a male box turtle, approximately 30 years old, was found in the wooded area. He said the species can live to be more than 100 years old, and the one they saw in Patriots Hollow reminded him a pumpkin with legs, as it was especially big and colorful.

The researcher said they encountered tick bombs while in the forest, with 100 to 200 small tick larvae starting to disperse at one time. He said when the lone star ticks are older their bites can cause problems as they can carry a disease that makes a person allergic to red meat.

“Until there are trails, and until some of these issues are addressed, it would be good to not have a bunch of folks running through here because the tick infestation can be a public health hazard,” he said.

Brian Leydet of SUNY-ESF will analyze ticks collected during the survey so recommendations can be made to the community trust and DEC about ways to reduce human-to-tick contact.

The 3VCT’s steering committee will look to include the community in the planning process and will work with the trust itself to seek grants and contributions. The initial implementation of the restoration and management plan will be funded by a grant of $500,000 secured by state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) in 2018, according to a press release from the trust.

Members of Three Village Community Trust and residents enjoyed the 6th annual Chicken Hill Barbecue July 27.

Approximately 80 attendees gathered near the Setauket Rubber Factory Houses, once part of the Chicken Hill community, now being preserved on the property of TVCT’s Bruce House headquarters. Historian Frank Turano gave an entertaining and informative talk on the history of Chicken Hill, and everyone enjoyed chicken, ribs, and all the fixings provided by Bagel Express. Participants also had the opportunity to visit two of the Rubber Factory Houses.

The TVCT’s next event, its 15th Annual Celebration, will be held Nov. 13 at the Old Field Club. For more information, visit www.threevillagecommunitytrust.org.

Residents, legislators and members of the Friends of the Greenway and the Three Village Community Trust, above, celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail. Photo by David Luces

Countless runners, bikers and families enjoy the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail every day, many unknowing to the fact that the 3.5-mile trail at one point was destined to be a highway.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Three Village Community Trust members Herb Mones and Cynthia Barnes, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and Charlie McAteer, chair of the Friends of the Greenway. Photo by David Luces

On June 8, residents, members of the Friends of the Greenway and the Three Village Community Trust as well as public officials gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the greenway trail opening at the midpoint of the trail — Lynx and Bobcat lanes.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am that the trail is so actively used by so many different groups of people,” said Herb Mones, TVCT trustee.

Mones said like any project it took a tremendous amount of planning and execution.

The process began in 1999, when residents began discussing what to do with the land acquired in the 1960s by the New York State Department of Transportation that ran from parts of East Setauket to Port Jefferson Station. Initially the state wanted to create a bypass to Route 25A.

“At first, many people didn’t understand how a pathway would work, because there was no example of it in the community,” Mones said. “People scratched their heads and said I don’t want that.”

It took 10 years to figure out how the trail would look and feel. Along the way, residents began to recognize the benefits of a greenway/bike trail.

The TVCT also had help from public officials.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was one of the first to see the potential of a greenway trail in the area and was able to secure more than $2 million in funds for the initial build-out of the trail. On the federal level, former Congressman Tim Bishop (D) was able to obtain $5 million for the remaining sections of the trail.

Residents enjoy the 10th anniversary celebration. Photo by Herb Mones

“It is really a testament to the community, volunteers and public officials to see this through,” Mones said. “Now this greenway is being used as a model for other trails being built in the county.”

George Hoffman, co-chair of the Three Village Civic Association, remembers initially people were upset with the idea of a trail but now residents advertise their homes being on the greenway as a selling point.

“This a great community resource,” he said. “Still some people don’t know this is here.”

Charlie McAteer, chair of the Friends of the Greenway, said he was glad for the turnout.

“Ten years ago we were at this spot, we had the support of the community, now you see what it had brought out, a three-mile trail that we all enjoy,” he said. “You see how many people use this trail. That’s what we intended.”

The success of the greenway trail has inspired the future county project Rails to Trails, a 10-mile path that will run from Mount Sinai to Wading River.

McAteer said he and the Friends of the Greenway are looking forward to helping with the project. Officials said they hope to break ground on the new trail sometime in fall 2019.

Photo from Cynthia Barnes

Starting in mid-April, archaeologists with the Lamar Institute began a month-long search at three significant American Revolutionary War battlefields on Long Island. These included Fort Slongo in Fort Salonga, the fort and headquarters known as Fort Franklin on Lloyd’s Neck, and the two churches on the Setauket Village Green and Patriots Rock in Setauket. 

Participants in the survey include Daniel Elliott, president of the Lamar Institute and his wife, Rita; local historian David M. Griffin, author of “Lost British Forts of Long Island”; and Sheldon Skaggs, assistant professor at City University of New York (CUNY) Bronx and his students.

In conjunction with the recent archaeological surveys, the Three Village Community Trust will host a special Join the Conversation event at the Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., Setauket on Wednesday, May 8 at 8 p.m. 

Elliott and his team will share their field methodology and discuss their very preliminary findings. This is archeology close at hand. Learn about how the team uses ground-penetrating radar (GPR), systematic and controlled metal detection, to locate and excavate key targets, and plot where each are found using total station laser transit mapping technology for later analysis. 

The project will continue with laboratory analysis and research to enable the identification of the battlefields across the modern landscape while providing data regarding military strategies. Resulting interpretation will be documented in a report available to the public on the Lamar Institute’s website (www.thelamarinstitute.org) by September 2020.

All are welcome to attend this free event. Refreshments will be served and there will be time for Q&A. For more information, please call 631-689-0225.

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Participants enjoy a walk and talk on the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail April 18. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Every day, Brookhaven residents walk or ride bikes along the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail, a paved path surrounded by nature that easily could have been taken over by cars and trucks.

Herb Mones shows participants invasive plants along the Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On April 18, the Three Village Community Trust kicked off its spring Join the Conversation series with a walk and talk presentation dedicated to the nearly 3.5-mile trail. A little more than a dozen participants joined Herb Mones, TVCT trustee, and Charles McAteer, Friends of the Greenway chair, at the Limroy Lane entrance in Setauket to learn about the trail’s history.

The walk and talk was held in anticipation of the greenway’s 10th anniversary in June, as the first phase of the trail opened between Gnarled Hollow Road and Sheep Pasture Road in 2009.

Mones and McAteer said those who travel the greenway can experience a variety of landscapes, including an old-growth forest, a centuries-old woodland with a variety of trees and species; a field of rhododendrons that nursery owners once grew for Gold Coast estate owners; a sandpit; and the former Lawrence Aviation Industries property.

In 1999, residents began discussing what to do with land acquired in the 1960s by the New York State Department of Transportation that ran from East Setauket by the site of what is now the headquarters of hedge fund Renaissance Technology to the park and ride on Hallock Road in Port Jefferson Station. Mones said the state’s original intent was to create a bypass to Route 25A during an era when transportation departments were looking to move as many vehicles as possible as quickly as possible.

During the 1980s and ’90s, the state was under pressure to move people not only by cars but with different modalities of transportation, according to Mones.

“What better way did New York State have in fulfilling its mission to create an alternative to vehicles than having a greenway built,” he said. “So, it became not only an advantage to this community but also something the state could hang its hat on and say, ‘We’re doing something other than building bigger and better roadways.’”

Mones said the residents first met in 1999 to discuss the trail in the office of Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Mones and McAteer said the meeting included different members of the community with various opinions, including those who were against the trail.

“It was the biggest disaster ever,” Mones said, adding that many residents weren’t familiar with greenways and were apprehensive about the idea.

Attendees learn about the Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail during a walk and talk April 18. Photo by Rita J. Egan

One of the biggest concerns of residents was people walking behind their property and potentially stealing from their homes.

Mones said it took a whole year before the community reengaged and organized a task force, and it took about 10 years until its opening in 2009. Earlier meetings were held at Renaissance Technology with the support of the hedge fund’s founder Jim Simons, and there were also smaller neighborhood meetings on Saturday mornings in cul-de-sacs and on corners to have discussions about concerns with residents, which McAteer said had more positive outcomes than the initial meeting at Englebright’s office.

Eventually, Englebright secured more than $2 million for the initial build-out and, on the federal level, former Congressman Tim Bishop (D) was able to obtain $5 million for the remaining sections of the trail. Mones added, due to the state and federal grants, the Friends group didn’t have to raise millions on their own.

While the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail had a rough start, McAteer said it inspired the future county project Rails to Trails that will run from Mount Sinai to Wading River. McAteer said Rails to Trails, which will be approximately 3 ¼ miles from the end of the greenway, had it’s opponents who at first didn’t want a trail running behind their backyards.

“They now have seen how well this trail is utilized, and how we keep it up with the Friends of the Greenway and working with our municipalities,” he said. “So now they see what can be done. So, another trail will become because of this.”

The Three Village Community Trust will hold a 10th anniversary celebration of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail opening June 8 at 11 a.m. at the greenway on Lynx Lane just east of Old Town Road in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.threevillagecommunitytrust.org.

Carl Safina with a scarlet macaw chick in Peru. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

The Three Village Community Trust will host “An Evening with Carl Safina” at the Old Field Club, 86 West Meadow Road, East Setauket at its 14th Annual Celebration of “fun and fundraising” on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 pm. Safina, a MacArthur “genius” award winner, renowned author and naturalist and Setauket resident, will speak on “Making a Case for Life on Earth.”  

A marine ecologist and environmental writer, Safina is the author of seven books, including the award-winning “Song for the Blue Ocean” and his latest, “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.” Safina is also the founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, where he is also a professor of nature and humanity.

At $50 per person, the festive evening will include wine, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, prizes, basket drawings and the raffle of a pastel painting, “Stony Brook Harbor Sunset,” by Mary Jane van Zeijts (above). Tickets for the painting are $25 each and only 200 tickets will be sold. 

Proceeds from the event will help support the trust’s preservation projects, including the restoration of the newly acquired Smith-deZafra House and the Patriots Hollow State Forest stewardship agreement recently signed with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 

To make a reservation or for more information, please call 631-689-0225, email tvcommtrust@optonline.net or visit www.threevillagecommunitytrust.org.  

The Three Village Community Trust closed on the historic Timothy Smith House, below, offered by Julia de Zafra for a nominal price. Attorney Gary Josephs, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, TVCT trustee Robert Reuter, Julia DeZafra, trust attorney Peter Legakis, and Cynthia Barnes, TVCT president, were on hand for the closing July 12. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

A local group has preserved a piece of history for future generations.

The Three Village Community Trust acquired the historic Timothy Smith House at 55 Main St., Setauket, July 12, according to a press release from the trust.

The Timothy Smith House will be renamed the Timothy Smith-Robert de Zafra House. Photo by Robert Reuter

“Because of its long history, its connection to town government in Brookhaven, and its remarkable degree of preservation over its 300-year life span, the Smith House is a valuable acquisition,” the release read. “The Three Village Community Trust is indebted to Robert de Zafra for acquiring it at the death of the previous owner, protecting it from being subdivided, and in so doing preserving the historic character of Setauket and this area’s contribution to the nation.”

In March, de Zafra’s widow, Julia, offered the house to the trust for a nominal price and will donate funds to help with continued restoration. According to the press release, de Zafra was a founding trustee of the Three Village Community Trust, and the Timothy Smith House, also known as the House on the Hill, has been recognized as a Brookhaven landmark and dates back to the early period of Setauket’s settlement starting in 1655.

Cynthia Barnes, president of the TVCT, said the trust will continue the restorations that de Zafra started and will be raising funds through contributions to the Robert de Zafra Restoration Fund and seeking grants. The house will be renamed the Timothy Smith-Robert de Zafra House. While the home will remain a private residence, Barnes said there are discussions about ways to make it available to the public periodically.

Robert Reuter, a TVCT trustee, said the house is “a treasure that figures prominently in our town’s earliest history” and he feels it offers an opportunity to interpret the best of design and craftsmanship in 18th-century colonial Setauket.

“The Timothy Smith House, a substantial two-story post-and-beam colonial building, remains original save for plumbing and electrical improvements.”

— Robert Reuter

“The Timothy Smith House, a substantial two-story post-and-beam colonial building, remains original save for plumbing and electrical improvements,” Reuter said. “It features immense structural timbers, floor boards — 24 inches and more in width, wrought iron hardware, primitive window glazing and simple but robust interior architectural details. A massive central chimney serves multiple fireplaces on both floors. The main kitchen fireplace incorporates a rare beehive oven with arched brick opening.”

According to the TVCT press release, the house, which dates back to 1695 to 1705, occupies one of the earliest farmstead plots in the area. It was laid out along both sides of a freshwater creek that was dammed to create the Setauket millpond. It is historically significant because it was the de-facto Brookhaven Town Hall during much of the 1700s due to successive Smith family members serving as town clerk. Timothy Smith occupied the house during the Revolutionary War, and it and the surrounding farm property remained in the Smith family until the death of Julia Sophia Smith in 1948. Forrest Bonshire, lived there from the 1960s to 2013, and the home was purchased by de Zafra from Bonshire’s estate to prevent it from being subdivided, and de Zafra was carefully restoring it before his death in October.

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The Three Village Community Trust will take over ownership of the Timothy Smith House on Main Street in Setauket. Photo by Robert Reuter

New ventures by some Setauket residents will make the area look a little different in the coming years.

The Three Village Community Trust announced plans to clean up Patriots Hollow State Forest and acquire the historic Timothy Smith House.

Patriots Hollow State Forest

The woods that run along Route 25A, across from Setauket’s Stop & Shop, have been the site of many downed trees over the years. The trust announced at its annual meeting March 14 that plans are in the works to clean up the woods and add a trail so people can walk through the forest, something that cannot easily be done in the property’s current state.

The land trust has partnered with the New York State DEC to clean up Patriots Hollow State Forest, which is the site of numerous downed trees. Photo by Cynthia Barnes

Setauket resident and former teacher Leonard Carolan said he walked into the woods one day and was disappointed to see how messy it was, not just because of the trees but the infestation of invasive plants. He approached the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Three Village Community Trust President Cynthia Barnes and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to discuss working together to clean up the former farmland.

Those conversations led to the trust signing a stewardship agreement with the DEC. Carolan, the chair of the new stewardship, will steer a committee of 16 people, which will assess the forest’s conditions and seek the community’s input to develop a restoration plan, according to Carolan. He said after gathering wants of the community and addressing concerns, the next step would be to clear 100 feet into the woods and turn to experts to identify the plants and figure out which need to be dug up or trimmed back.

“We want to work it where we have enough clearing that we can plant native trees — the white oaks, the red maples, the black tupelos — and make that into a more native natural forest with a greater variety of trees and habitat,” Carolan said.

The trust also plans to build a split-rail fence with downed locust trees along the 25A side of the property. The committee chair said the work will take years to complete, and the community trust will spearhead fundraising campaigns in the future to fund the project.

Barnes said the trust is excited to join forces with the DEC and to work with Carolan.

“This former farmland in the heart of the Setauket community, devastated by neglect and storms over the years, is in dire need of attention,” Barnes said.

The Timothy House is known locally as the “house on the hill.” Photo by Robert Reuter

Englebright said he was happy to hear the trust and DEC working together on cleaning up the forest, which he considers an important part of the local landscape.

“I would like to see the community take emotional ownership of the property,” the assemblyman said. “The way you do that is make it accessible. The way you develop good stewardship is have people who are invested in the property — through their ability to walk on trails, to enjoy the natural beauty of the property, to discover its secret. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘hollow.’”

Timothy Smith House

The home known locally as the “house on the hill” was purchased by Robert de Zafra in 2012. Up until his death last October, de Zafra, the trust’s co-founder, was restoring the home that sits on 2.6 acres.

Trustee Robert Reuter reported that de Zafra’s widow, Julia, offered the house to the trust for a nominal price and will donate funds to help with continued restoration. The trust will also create the Robert de Zafra Conservation and Preservation Fund to preserve the house and other community landmarks.

Englebright said the house represents an important part of history in Setauket. The Smiths were among a group from Southold who settled Setauket in 1655 and created Brookhaven town. A clerk once worked out of the home, and it was considered Brookhaven’s town hall for decades. Englebright said de Zafra went to great lengths to ensure the house was protected and preserved, even using his own resources.

“It’s appropriate, I think, for the community trust — which he is a founding trustee of — to carry forward his legacy as well as the legacies of all the others who lived in the house preceding his acquisition of it,” Englebright said.