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West Meadow Beach

Results from a Brookhaven Town preliminary assessment show that two of four cottages at West Meadow Beach are structurally unsound. Photo from Herb Mones

Attendees at the June 5 Three Village Civic Association had the beach on their mind, but this time in terms of preservation, instead of recreation.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) addressed the meeting to update the civic association members about current town projects in the area. While the councilwoman covered a number of topics, the town’s recent preliminary assessment of four cottages at West Meadow Beach along with other concerns at the location produced a number of comments and questions from those in attendance.

Cartright said after an internal evaluation it appears two cottages are dilapidated and have been found structurally unsound, and possibly not salvageable. However, there is the potential to save a third one and use the fourth as an outdoor interpretive kiosk.

The councilwoman said in order to save a cottage a huge expense is incurred. When the ranger home was renovated it cost $500,000 to get it to a point where it was stable. Any costs to renovate a cottage would have to be funded by taxpayer money because West Meadow Beach is town-owned property. While an endowment fund was set up after the sale of former cottages at the beach, the town can only use the interest from that fund. According to Cartright, from 2011 to 2016 the account has averaged only $2,500 per year in comparison to $36,000 a year from 2004 to 2010.

“I wanted to make sure if these cottages are coming down that we have a report from someone outside of the town telling us that is necessary.”

— Valerie Cartright

“As you can expect there’s a lot of reluctance from people in the town as to putting in a certain amount of money into all of the different cottages that are in between the Gamecock Cottage and the ranger home,” she said.

Cartright said she is following standard operating procedure and has asked for an independent engineer to assess the cottages, and the town has complied with her request.

“I wanted to make sure if these cottages are coming down that we have a report from someone outside of the town telling us that is necessary,” she said.

She has also enlisted the help of state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to secure funds from the state to help with restoring the cottages, if necessary.

The councilwoman said many residents have voiced their concerns to her about the dilapidated cottages.

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, said he believes the town hasn’t done their part in properly restoring and maintaining the cottages. He also said while he applauded Cartright and the town for their past attempts at preserving the Gamecock Cottage, some of the renovations were not up to par and appendages were added to the structure without consulting historic experts. He reminded those in attendance that West Meadow Beach is a historic district and that any money would be better spent preserving them for the time being and avoiding any possible demolition.

“We’re going to spend a great deal of money to tear them down and restore those sites,” Reuter said. “We can spend that money to preserve them for smarter people to think about it in the future.”

The councilwoman agreed with Reuter that the matter should be referred to the town’s historic district advisory committee, of which Reuter is a member, before a community meeting is held and the town makes a final decision.

Cartright feels West Meadow Beach has come a long way over the last few years despite problems in the past, including the appointment of a new ranger and consultant.

“When I came into office, I think we were at the point of where it just started to transition where people started to look at the beach as a beautiful preserve, whereas we should now be trying to preserve everything that is there and make it so that the community could actually enjoy this treasure,” she said.

SUNSET ON THE NORTH SHORE Fred Lingen of Patchogue used a Nikon 3300 to capture the sunset at West Meadow Beach on March 21. He writes, ‘As spring approaches and the rotation of the earth changes to allow North Shore sunsets, my beach of choice is West Meadow in Stony Brook. Its long strip of shoreline runs almost perpendicular to the Long Island coastline, making it a perfect spot all spring and summer for fantastic sunsets. The abundance of wildlife should not be missed; and, if you feel energetic, a nice 1.5-mile-long walk on Trustees Road to the Gamecock Cottage will work out those kinks.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

Tranquil Waters

Gene Sprouse captured this calming image at West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook on Jan. 21 at dusk using a Nikon D5500. He writes, “This is an unusual view of the local landmark that is the subject of innumerable photos and paintings, the Gamecock Cottage. I walked from Trustees Road out to the edge of the salt marsh to get this ‘back side’ view of the cottage. It was at high tide, and this allowed for the reflection, and a little mist in Stony Brook Harbor lends it a peaceful feeling.”

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

Snow and sleet notwithstanding, spring will soon be here, and it’s time to ask the question: Will environmental education programming return to West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook and Cedar Beach in MountSinai?

When queried last year, Brookhaven Town spokesman Jack Krieger responded in an email, “At this time the position [environmental educator] is occupied and budgeted in the 2017 town budget.” When he wrote that, the person holding the title, Molly Hastings,  had been suspended since September pending the outcome of a hearing process that has yet to be concluded nearly five months later.

The 1996 New York State legislation that decreed the removal of the cottages being used by private individuals, and returned the beach to its natural state, also contained a provision that there be an environmental educator hired to provide programming to add an informational component to the newly reclaimed preserve.

The cottages were razed in 2004 and, following a multi-year civil service process to establish the position, Eileen Gerle became the first environmental educator in March 2009. Upon her retirement in October 2014, Hastings became the second to hold the position the following December. 

Stony Brook civic leader Herb Mones said he dedicated a decade and a half to seeing that the town complied with the legislation.

“I spent 15 years of my life on this issue, to move the town to fulfill its obligation to make the public park public, fulfilling the vision of local industrialists Ward Melville and Eversley Childs,” he said.

Mones said the town has done some very good things at West Meadow, remodeling the main building, adding a lifeguard station and providing new playground equipment.

“If the town never did another thing, it would still be a remarkable resource,” he said. “It’s a little slice of heaven. I think there are a lot of things that are very positive. West Meadow really defines the Three Villages.”

Still, he said he’d like to see refurbishment of the remaining cottages, addition of a nature trail and installation of security lighting near the Gamecock Cottage. And, of course, restoration of educational programming.      

When Nick Sicurelli, a 17-year-old Hauppauge High School senior, learned all the fall environmental education programs at West Meadow Beach — as well as at Cedar Beach — had been cancelled this year, he said he felt bad for all the students and scouts who had missed out.

“It’s important to reach out, to inform people [about the environment], to let them know the scale of what’s going on — and the small things they can do [to improve the planet],” he said, adding he believed the cancellations were unfortunate.

Sicurelli first came to West Meadow Beach to complete an environmental science merit badge with his Boy Scout Troop 343. He returned happily and often to take advantage of the opportunities to learn and do more including search for turtles and turtle eggs, help with beach cleanup, remove invasive plants and replant a beach garden for which he raised funds to purchase trees and plants.

In all, 19 programs open to the public and 22 public school programs were canceled in September and October at the two sites, according to a Sept. 27 email sent from Tom Carrano, supervisor of the environmental educator, to Molly Hastings.

In addition, a variety of tours, field trips, school assemblies, citizen scientist projects and volunteer opportunities were unavailable this fall.

Elyas Masrour of Setauket, a student at P. J. Gelinas Junior High School, saw a film years ago that engendered in him a passion for birds.

“I watched ‘The Big Year,’ a funny movie about birders who go on a trip and try to outdo each other sighting birds,” he said. “It lit a spark for me and I signed up for bird walks at West Meadow Beach.”

He said he met other birders and they did a ‘Big Year’ together — right in the Three Village area — identifying more than 100 bird species. Taking the next step, Masrour started photographing birds he spotted, until he realized taking videos made it easier to capture a good shot in an individual frame. That led to wildlife filmmaking.

He asked permission of Hastings to film the piping plovers at West Meadow last summer. She worked with him so he could create a five-minute documentary.

Catherine Masrour, Elyas’ mother, would like to see the educational programming resume.

“It’s such an important thing,” she said. “Kids don’t get outside enough as it is. There are all these opportunities at West Meadow that make it so special and wonderful. If we are going to combat climate change, we need to start locally — and with the young. We need an informed future generation.”

A motor boat heads toward Shipman’s Point at West Meadow Beach. File photo.

The history of West Meadow beach is a contentious one. Cottages leased to private citizens left a large portion of the beach unavailable to the public throughout the years. A headline in the Port Jefferson Echo newspaper June 19, 1930, read “West Meadow Beach Cottages To Be Ousted By January 1940.” According to Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), removal of the cottages was a cyclical issue. Every decade or so there was a public outcry for a return of the beach to all Brookhaven citizens.

“This had become the norm by the 1960s,” he said.

When Englebright proposed legislation in June 1996, there was significant opposition from cottage owners who fought to keep the beach as it was. Since state legislation could only be established over the Brookhaven Town-owned property with the town’s express permission, a document called a “home rule message” had to be obtained before the legislation could move forward. Under then Town Supervisor Felix Grucci (R), the town agreed.

Even so, the opposition from cottage owners continued.

Bipartisan legislation [then Senator James Lack (R) sponsored the bill in the New York State Senate] was signed in 1996 stating West Meadow Beach “be preserved, protected, enhanced, and studied while simultaneously being made available for use by the general public for educational and passive recreational activities.” It stipulated the cottages be removed “on or before Jan. 15, 2005.” Removal of the cottages would be funded by payments from cottage owners for the use of the land over the following eight years. Interest accrued on the account, holding these payments were to be transferred annually into a separate account, previously established by the town July 6, 1993, called the West Meadow Beach capital restoration fund. This money was to be kept separately, overseen by a nonprofit Stony Brook community fund.

“When my husband Peter died last year I wrote to the town offering to fund the installation of a bench in his memory.”
—Muriel Weyl

The Stony Brook community fund became The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in 1996 and, according to a long-term board member of the organization, the town never came to them with a proposal. Since then it’s unclear who has been overseeing this money.

Attorney George Locker, a Stony Brook University graduate and former member of the Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy, believes the town is in breach of the statute.

“When the [Stony Brook community fund disbanded] instead of finding another third party to handle the funds, the town took control of the money,” Locker said. “The only thing I could find [after requesting all filings related to this account] was an invasive species plant removal.

“It took 20 years to elevate the Gamecock Cottage. At least one cottage was to be turned into a nature museum.

“[According to information provided by the town’s Department of Finance] the money is earning [virtually] no interest. The town has a fiduciary duty to grow the money in some safe way.”

Brookhaven Town spokesperson Jack Krieger provided the following information about investments in an email.

“The New York State Comptroller and New York State Municipal Law define what type of investments are acceptable for a municipality to engage,” he said. “The special New York State Law governing the WMB endowment made no special provisions for investment of the monies; therefore, the investment of the monies have been subject to the municipal law guidelines. The interest rate for the endowment account, and all town bank accounts, are monitored constantly by the finance department.”

Stony Brook resident Muriel Weyl said she is distressed by the lack of bench seating along the paved walk out to Shipman’s Point.

“When my husband Peter died last year I wrote to the town offering to fund the installation of a bench in his memory,” she said. “He was an oceanographer, and a founder of what is now the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook and I thought it would be fitting. They would not do it.”

She said she loves spending time at West Meadow Beach, and now that she uses a wheelchair she can be seated while enjoying the walk. When she was still walking, she said it was difficult because there were not enough benches to enable her to make it out to the Point. Even now, she said, “it would be nice for the person pushing my chair to have a place to sit.”

Krieger said there was a period of time several years ago where the town allowed residents to dedicate a bench with a memorial plaque if they paid all of the costs for the bench and its installation. This has since been discontinued.

He said he had no answer as to the question why there are not more benches.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) recently sent a letter to Englebright offering to work together to solve issues regarding funding and oversight of the West Meadow Nature Preserve.


Gene Sprouse captured this photo on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 5:17 p.m. with his Nikon D5500 with a 18-200mm zoon lens at 44mm focal length. He took three shots at 0, −2 and +2 and used Photomatix to generate an HDR composite picture. He writes, “The Supermoon [on Nov. 13] caused an unusually low tide, and I took this picture at West Meadow Beach at sunset. In all of my years in Stony Brook, I have never seen the sandbars out so far.”

Is it time for a second look at the reclaimed nature preserve?

West Meadow Beach as seen from clear-sky day. Photo by Donna Newman

It’s been 20 years since New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) authored legislation to create a nature preserve at West Meadow Beach, with a guarantee that it would not be a drain on the ongoing Brookhaven Town budget.

Englebright described a grueling and divisive battle that continued for the eight years between passage of the legislation and the eventual reclamation of the beach.

“I wanted to write state law that established, as specifically as I could at the time, the land uses going forward,” he said, adding that West Meadow Beach is now the most valuable asset Brookhaven Town owns.

Brookhaven officials agreed to take responsibility for the preserve, via a “home rule message,” to keep it a town property.

“Home rule message” is a New York State Assembly policy that, if a proposed bill will affect a municipality, before the speaker authorizes it to come out of committee, that municipality must signal its approval, Englebright said. Brookhaven Town, under then Supervisor Felix Grucci, did just that.

The legislation — A 11008-A in the Assembly and S 7829 sponsored by former New York State Senator James Lack (R) in the Senate — included a provision for a segregated account to contain rent money paid into it by the cottage-owners who continued to occupy them during the summers between 1996 and 2004.

In 1996, nearly 100 cottages were on West Meadow Beach. The legislation required all cottage owners to pay an annual rent to the West Meadow Beach Capital Restoration Fund overseen by both the Stony Brook Community Fund and Brookhaven Town.

In 2004, that fund was used to remove the cottages to make way for the preserve, as well as restoration of the beach.

The Gamecock Cottage at the end of Trustees Road, one cottage to serve as a local museum, and two cottages for security/park protection purposes were the only buildings not removed.

Meanwhile, the Stony Brook Community Fund became The Ward Melville Heritage Organization. It has since declined to handle the responsibilities spelled out in the legislation.

According to the Brookhaven Town Department of Finance, these endowment funds are kept in a bank account separate from other Brookhaven Town funds. The current balance in this account is $1.45 million, which generates approximately $2,000 in interest per year to be used at West Meadow. If this interest is not used, it reverts back as an addition to the principal of the fund.

Jack Krieger, public information officer of Brookhaven, confirmed in an email that Brookhaven has been compliant with this law since it was created.

Englebright said he feels it might be time to revisit the management of West Meadow Beach.

“It may be time for a public/private partnership vision to be pursued,” he said. “A not-for-profit operating the Nature Center in conjunction with the town [would be preferable].”

He pointed out that the practice works extremely well for organizations like the Bronx Zoo and the American Museum of Natural History.

Cedar Beach file photo

To help residents keep cool during the extreme heat wave, Brookhaven Town will extend hours at municipal pools and beaches on Friday, Aug. 12 and Saturday, Aug. 13.

The town’s Centereach and Holtsville pools will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook, Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai and Corey Beach in Blue Point will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Normal operating hours at all facilities will resume on Sunday, Aug. 14.

For more information, call 451-TOWN or visit www.Brookhaven.org.

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Jewish Summer Festival attendees watch the performance with cotton candy and snow cones. Photo by Jim Harrison

More than 500 people stopped by West Meadow Beach last Wednesday evening for the three-hour Jewish Summer Festival.

Entertainment included an acrobatic performance by Cirque-tacular Entertainment, the music of Israeli singer Sandy Shmuely, face-painting and a moon bounce for the children.

That and a kosher barbecue dinner with all the fixings were part of the lure, but the bigger enticement was the camaraderie and friendship the festival offers.

The festival is a creation of Chabad at Stony Brook, and is co-directed by Rabbi Motti and Chaya Grossbaum.

“Seven years ago,” said Rabbi Grossbaum, “I was looking for a way to bring the community together for a public celebration of Jewish life, pride and future here in Suffolk County.” Now in its seventh year, it has become a midsummer classic event that many people look forward to.

A NYC Cirque-tacular Entertainment duo wows the crowd. Photo by Jim Harrison
A NYC Cirque-tacular Entertainment duo wows the crowd. Photo by Jim Harrison

The festival has grown every year, he said, gathering new partiers and sponsors as well.

“It’s nice to ‘hear’ your culture,” said Dominique Shapiro of Smithtown, referring to Shmuely’s music, “and to meet people—young, old, Jewish, non-Jewish—and also bump into those you know.”

Shapiro discovered the festival last year and brought her family again this year. Her three children played in the sand, sampled the food and swayed to the sounds of Shmuely’s guitar.

Steve Zalta of Holbrook attended with nine members of his family, including his two young granddaughters who, he said, danced away to the Hebrew music.

The 63-year-old sales rep of Syrian descent moved to Long Island from Brooklyn 30 years ago. He said at first, he used to go back to Brooklyn for Jewish content and connections; now, he has found outlets where he lives.

“We’re all one family,” he said in general. Of the summer event, in particular, “It’s a way for the children to see their heritage.”

Rabbi Grossbaum thanked the crowd for attending, and acknowledged the sponsors for helping make the night a success and bringing the community together. In fact, that’s what drew Elyse Buchman of Setauket to the festival for the second time.

“It’s very community-based,” she said. “No matter what temple you’re affiliated with—or none at all—you get together as a community and share in a good time. There are not a lot of places where you can do that.”

Buchman and her husband Marty are owners of the Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn, which opened in June and focuses on bike tours. She pronounced the North Shore “full of history and beauty that often falls under the radar.”

The icing on the festival cake was, as Shapiro noted, a very beautiful sunset, “one of the best on Long Island.”

By Katelyn Winter

Water, sun, sand and rocks. West Meadow Beach in Setauket is made up of simple components, but stop by any day of the week, any hour of the day, and you’ll see a symphony of activity going on.

The 1,100-foot waterfront off Trustees Road is where beachgoers of all walks of life go — and some go just to walk! There is a wide two-mile trail that goes through an 88-acre wetlands preserve, where visitors can explore on bike or foot the beauty of the marsh area. At around the midpoint of the trail is the Dr. Erwin J. Ernst Marine Conservation Center, which features a small dock and beautiful views.

The trail is a popular spot for people looking to up their step counts, but this Town of Brookhaven beach is popular because it presents the opportunity for a wonderful day outdoors, no matter what you’re looking to do.

Purchasing a parking pass or paying a daily fee is necessary, and you can visit the website at www.brookhaven.org to find out more about what you’ll need to bring and how much you’ll have to pay. Regardless, the price is small compared to the summer of beach-day adventures it will unlock. 

“People love the sandbars,” says Jack Rachek, a town lifeguard working at West Meadow. “It’s our main attraction.” When low tide comes and the sandbars appear, you can expect to see young children and their parents heading out to wade in the shallow water and dig in the soft sand. Because the beach is part of the Long Island Sound, there aren’t big waves, and it’s small enough to keep that familiar hometown vibe.

Another lifeguard, Brittany, says she loves how “relaxed it is. There aren’t many saves; it’s just about keeping an eye out for the kids.” Lifeguards are on duty through Labor Day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends, so you can always be sure there is someone watching your children in the water and out. West Meadow is a beach for families. In addition to the calm waters, there are two playgrounds, checkerboard tables, a gazebo for shady picnics and a water sprinkler park.

Those features are why so many Three Village residents have happy memories of days spent at West Meadow. Beyond what the beach itself has on its grounds, though, there is so much that the people who work to make West Meadow the mecca of summer activity that it is have in store.

“People love the sandbars. It’s our main attraction.”

—Jack Rachek

Nancy Grant, of Friends of Flax Pond, is one of those people. She and her team of volunteers are working hard on the species conservation of the diamond-backed terrapin turtle, whose numbers are way down. “I have wonderful volunteers,” says Grant, who explained that while the turtles nest in the marshlands it is illegal to touch or pick them up. If you are interested in helping the diamond-back terrapins, there are meetings for new volunteers on the weekends, usually at around 9 a.m. Email ngrant@fpf.org for more information on how you can make a difference through volunteering.

The diamond-back terrapins aren’t the only cause you can support, though! Citizen Ranger meetings and beach clean-ups are scheduled for the summer, and for information on those or any other program you should email the park ranger, Molly Hastings, at mhastings@brookhaven.org, or call 631-751-6714.

With so much going on at West Meadow, it is amazing how relaxed the beach environment really is. “It’s a great lunchtime escape,” says beachgoer Jeff, “and it’s an awesome windsurfing beach in the fall.” Indeed, outside the green flags that indicate safe swim areas, you’ll see lots of people enjoying the water in different ways.

In recent years, paddle boarding has become a popular way to exercise and enjoy the tranquility of being out on the water. Ocean kayaking is another way to get on the water without actually getting in it.

For those who are looking to get in the water, you should stay between the green flags, and be sure to leave the inner tubes, rafts and snorkel gear at home. And for kids who still need to brush up on their swimming skills, or even teens and adults who want to improve, you can actually take swimming lessons at West Meadow Beach with certified Red Cross instructors. Session III starts on Aug. 1 and lasts for two weeks. You can learn more by calling 631-281-2866 or visiting the beach’s website.

West Meadow Beach is a great place to have fun, but it’s also a great place to learn — whether you want to be able to do the front crawl or learn more about wildlife and conservation. The beach and trail are speckled with informative signs about the beach’s ecosystem and the animals that thrive in it. West Meadow Beach is a beloved Three Village attraction, and because of that, there are so many local groups, like Friends of Flax Pond and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, that want to see it stay clean, safe and hospitable for people and wildlife.

As she went on her daily jog down the trail at West Meadow, a resident named Eileen stopped to tell me why she loved this beach. “It’s a wonderful place to grow up,” she smiled, “And it’s a wonderful place to keep nature as it is. As you go down this trail, there are over twenty species of birds you can see. It’s a very inexpensive pass for such a great summer.”

Whether your favorite part is being in the water or walking along the shore, this beach holds a special place in the hearts of those who visit it all year round. And that’s why West Meadow is a treasure among us.

Author Katelyn Winter is a rising junior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.,  majoring in English and creative writing. She is from Stony Brook and hopes to one day work in the publishing industry.