The nonprofit North Shore Land Alliance is buying a publicly accessible Japanese garden that had been in danger of closing for financial reasons.
The alliance’s purchase of the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck is the final piece of a yearslong effort to create a contiguous 150-acre area of publicly and privately owned wildlife habitat and walking trails, said Lisa Ott, the group’s president and CEO.
“It’s so important for biodiversity, for habitat and for recreation,” she said.
Ott called the area “probably the most rich in biodiversity in all of the North Shore.”
The contract to buy the 7-acre Japanese garden was signed last week. Ott declined to release the price until the closing of the sale, which is expected within several weeks.
The garden was created in the 1960s as part of the then-private estate of Humes, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria, and his wife, Jean. It was opened to the public in the mid-1980s.
The nonprofit foundation established by John Humes before his death had considered selling to a developer, but preferred to keep the garden open, said John Lander, a Babylon-based lawyer for the foundation.
“We sold it for much less than it would have sold as a building lot,” he said.
Proceeds will fund youth education programs, he said.
Mill Neck Mayor Peter Quick said development on the site would have been legally difficult because of covenants. He called the garden “a gem in the community” that is a better use of the land than new houses.
“There are a lot of people who move to the North Shore of Long Island for the space and for the openness,” Quick said.
The sloping, wooded site with a traditional Japanese garden design features a goldfish-stocked pond partially surrounded by bamboo plants, streams and a teahouse.
The foundation had charged visitors $10, but the alliance hopes to end the entrance fee when the garden reopens in the spring, Ott said.
In 2015, the alliance bought the adjacent 28-acre Humes residential property, which the organization will continue to improve, Ott said. That includes restoring a meadow that is a short walk from the Japanese garden.
“Right now it’s completely overgrown,” said conservation director Stephen Searl as he looked out on a tangle of bramble. “Restoring it to a meadow habitat is ideal.”
The 150-acre area was mostly carved out of what had been large estates, Ott said. Once the alliance finishes work on a section of trail, visitors will be able to hike on a loop of about 5 miles, she said.
“It will be a varied experience,” Ott said as she stood on the estate property. “The Japanese garden is formal. This is more wild and natural, so you’ll be able to experience different kinds of nature.”