By Rita J. Egan
The Town of Brookhaven is ensuring a trip to a local beach remains educational as well as enjoyable.
The town board unanimously approved a license agreement between Brookhaven and town environmental educator Nicole Pocchiare June 14. The agreement allows Pocchiare to reside at the house known as the ranger’s cottage at West Meadow Beach.
Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she was pleased about the board voting unanimously in favor of the license agreement and understanding the importance of having a continuous presence at the beach.
“I think having an environmental educator present at West Meadow Beach is a benefit to the entire community,” Cartright said. “It allows her to keep a close eye on the sensitive ecosystem there and also provide programs in a manner that’s not ‘9-to-5-ish.’ She does programs early in the morning — she has late evening programs — and I think that the community is appreciative of that.”
Eileen Gerle became the first environmental educator for the town in 2009, and when she retired in October 2014, Molly Hastings took over the position until her suspension in September 2016, which the town has not provided a reason for. While Pocchiare has been an environmental educator for the town since April 2017, Cartright said it took some time before someone could live at the cottage again after Hastings left because the town councilmembers felt it was beneficial to set up a license agreement, where the resident could only live in the home as long as they were a town educator.
Cartright said residents have been consistent in their requests that they wanted someone present at the cottage at all times.
“Even if it’s just a tidbit that they learn, it brings them closer to the beach and the creek.”
— Nicole Pocchiare
Civic leader Herb Mones, from Stony Brook, is one of those residents. He said he calls West Meadow Beach the “Fire Island of the North Shore” due to the similarities in views and native species, and feels it’s important the town has someone in place to educate beachgoers about its importance.
“I think it’s critical because it not only fulfills the state law for the preservation of West Meadow that stipulates that there be an environmental educator at the park, but what it does, it brings about a growing awareness and an appreciation for the ecosystem and the environment which is developed by their programs,” Mones said. “I think the more robust the program, the better the future for the park and the preserve.”
Pocchiare said she was excited to hear of the board’s approval because she feels it will make her job a bit easier living on the beach and also being close to West Meadow Creek. Currently, she has been traveling from her office at Brookhaven Town Hall whenever there is a program at the beach or someone is needed there. The educator said being on the grounds will make it easier to help representatives from organizations who may need to work on the site early in the morning or late at night. Most important of all, residing at the cottage will provide her more opportunities to interact with the public, even outside of town programs.
“It increases the appreciation and increases then the conservation of the beach,” she said. “Even if it’s just a tidbit that they learn, it brings them closer to the beach and the creek.”
Pocchiare said programs for the current year include educational activities for all ages including nature exploration, full moon and nature walks, and birding by the beach.
The educator, who currently lives in Selden and grew up in Holbrook, said she remembers going to West Meadow Beach for the first time 10 years ago and meeting Gerle.
“I remember loving this little beach,” she said. “I was used to the South Shore because I was a Sachem girl and grew up in Holbrook. But I think I’ve grown to really love the North Shore beaches. The sand flats that West Meadow has and those beautiful sunsets because of it being situated from north to south, overlooking the west. And then having the creek and the salt marsh on the other side of Trustees Road is something so unique to West Meadow which sets it apart from all the other beaches.”