Irked over camp's return to Hauppauge park

The tennis courts at Hidden Pond Park in The tennis courts at Hidden Pond Park in Hauppauge. (Jun. 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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The 600 or so day campers expected Monday at Hidden Pond Park easily outnumber the handful of Islip grown-ups bristling about their arrival, but town officials hope they all can learn to share.

Chalk drawing on the handball courts, a lack of parking and garbage everywhere, is the scene some residents describe at the town-owned 95-acre site in Hauppauge, where The Rinx recreation company operates the eight-week camp.

Charles Goodman, an avid tennis player from Brentwood, said "screaming kids" overran the park's tennis and handball courts last summer, preventing him and other regular players from using the courts. He's convinced this year will present the same problems.

"They've displaced residents," said Goodman, 69. "We pay our taxes, and they just can't do that. They can't kick us off the tennis courts and use it for something else."

Town officials disputed that residents' access has been blocked. And Tom Palamara, executive vice president of The Rinx, said camp officials leave at least one handball and tennis court accessible to the public. He added they met last year with Goodman when he first complained.

He said camp staff clean the park twice daily and have spent $800,000 in recent years on park improvements, which town officials praised. "We're constantly reinvesting in the Town of Islip's property for the benefit of the taxpayers," Palamara said. "We keep that park in pristine condition."

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The town has since 1992 allowed The Rinx to operate its camp at Hidden Pond. Last September, the town board unanimously voted to extend the term of the lease to 2036 at an annual fee of $68,330.

Joseph Montuori, Islip's commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, said he has addressed Goodman's complaints with Rinx. "We told them to be a good neighbor," he said.

Montuori said he's received a complaint only from Goodman -- though at least one other resident said they called Islip Town constituent services -- and said it seemed premature to complain before the campers arrived.

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"He's not giving me a chance to look into it," Montuori said. "If town residents want to come and use it, they should be able to. It's called sharing."

Islip Town Councilman Anthony S. Senft Jr. said he was "aware" of the complaints. "My commissioner assures me that there are opportunities for all our constituents to play tennis."

Brian Donehower, a Hauppauge resident who also plays tennis at the park, said he attempted to take his girlfriend's children to the park's wooded area last summer when camp officials warned him off. "It's so big; I don't understand why they have to take up that area," said Donehower, 41. "They're kids, they're having fun, but jeez."

Meanwhile, Goodman said he's been forced to go to other parks farther from his home. "I don't mind sharing, but we should be allowed to have tennis courts to play tennis on them," he said. "This is just unconscionable and inconsiderate. Can we deduct part of our tax money to make up for it?"

Palamara countered that the camp's "children are taxpayers, too. . . . Anybody who denies them the opportunity to use that camp, then shame on them."

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