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Merrick preserve reopens to residents craving nature

Ari Friend, 9, helps his father David carry

Ari Friend, 9, helps his father David carry a kayak from the dock at Norman J. Levy Preserve in Merrick. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Stir-crazy Long Islanders looking to escape their homes can now return to the Norman J. Levy Preserve in Merrick, which was shut down for two months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former Merrick landfill, which was converted 20 years ago into a nature preserve next to the Hempstead Sanitation Department, reopened last week to hikers and runners.

Hempstead Town officials closed the preserve in March to prevent overcrowding amid fear of spreading the coronavirus. The town also had to close the site because a line of cars to get into the parking lot was interfering with sanitation trucks entering and leaving the sanitation facility. 

“When the pandemic first started, so many people felt trapped in their houses and Levy Preserve is a natural magnet for being outside,” Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin Jr. said.  “So many people were showing up, we had to temporarily shut it down.”

Hempstead officials have reopened the preserve while monitoring crowds and requiring people to wear masks and social distance on the trails. All ranger tours and jitney rides remain suspended. Rangers at the preserve are assessing capacity, but so far have not had to turn away visitors.

The 52-acre property spans from Merrick Road off Meadowbrook Parkway to Merrick Bay, and includes a 500-foot fishing pier into the bay. The preserve usually attracts about 50,000 visitors annually. In past years, the preserve can average up to 200 visitors per day during the week and 500 to 600 visitors each weekend day.

The preserve’s fishing pier and kayak dock remain open, but kayak tours are suspended. The town hopes to resume guided kayak tours in either Phase 3 or Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan.

“People want to see the gradual reopening of their favorite sites,” Clavin said.

During the pandemic shutdown, town agriculture workers still maintained the facility, including tending to a herd of Nigerian dwarf goats there to control weed and brush growth and a flock of Guinea fowl that feed on insects and ticks at the preserve’s waterfront nature habitat.

The former landfill was closed in 1984 and dedicated as a park in 2000 as part of a $15 million park conversion project. The town pursued the park in place of a $57 million cap and closure program planned by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The preserve is now dotted with wildflowers and its high point of 115 feet above sea level features views of Reynolds Channel and the New York City skyline. The preserve was named for the former state senator who was an environmental advocate and Merrick resident. 

“I grew up driving past it and just thought of it as a dump,” Clavin said. “Now it’s a thriving park.”

Norman J. Levy Preserve

  • Located at 1600 Merrick Rd.
  • Open daily 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Masks and social distancing required
  • Fishing pier and kayak launch open. Kayak tours suspended

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