David Baker, 75, from Nesconset, cleans up litter and weeds along Portion Road and other areas in Lake Ronkonkoma every day. Credit: Linda Rosier

If you’ve ever driven down County Road 16 in Lake Ronkonkoma, chances are you’ve passed David Baker.

Baker, a resident of nearby Nesconset, can be seen almost daily collecting litter and removing weeds along a roughly 3-mile stretch of the heavily trafficked thoroughfare, also known as Portion Road, as well as at various spots around Lake Ronkonkoma.

On an average day, the 75-year-old said he spends several hours walking or riding his bike along the sidewalk to clean up the garbage and overgrowth between Gibbs Pond Road and Cenacle Road.

“I’m out there every day all year round, unless it’s like 20 degrees out or 30 mile-per-hour winds,” Baker said. “I guess I just got so disgusted, because there were places where you couldn’t even walk. . . . I figured, hey, somebody’s got to do it.”

Baker, who grew up in Kings Park, spent decades working as a horse jockey starting at the age of 19 and said he competed in hundreds of races at tracks, including the legendary Saratoga Race Course upstate. His life changed in 2000, though, when he was thrown from a horse in Pennsylvania and suffered a brain injury that caused doctors to keep him in a coma for three months, he said.

“They said the horse threw me, then turned around and came back and ran over me again, and I was out cold,” Baker said. “I almost died.”

After the accident, Baker lived in Smithtown before moving about five years ago to Nesconset. Since then, his beautification efforts have drawn notice from many residents — including those in a Facebook group administered by the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group, comprising residents who strive to clean and revitalize the mile-wide lake.

“He’s an older gentleman who is out there with the energy of a 22-year-old, and he’s busting it all the time,” said the group’s co-founder, Matthew Balkam, of Lake Grove, who said he frequently beeps and gives a thumbs up when he sees Baker. “He’s adopted that whole area, and I think it’s great. . . . His energy and desire to do the right thing for his community is commendable. It’s a shining example.”

Another resident who has seen Baker “busily chopping weeds to keep the sidewalks passable“ and picking up trash as he goes along is Joyce Sorrese, the curator of the Lake Ronkonkoma Museum.

“He does so out of the goodness of his heart and pride in his community,“ Sorrese said. “He is a gentle soul and an unsung hero. The community thanks him and is grateful for him.“

When informed of Baker’s upkeep of the road, Suffolk County officials encouraged residents with concerns regarding maintenance of its more than 2,000 miles of roads to contact the county through its 311 system.

“Our crews work every day to keep Suffolk the beautiful place it is,” said the county’s communications director, Michael Martino. “There is always an opportunity for residents to contact the county through its 311 system about conditions that may need to be addressed, and the department responds as quickly as possible.”

While Baker said he hasn’t seen the online praise for him since he doesn’t have a Facebook account or even a cellphone, he is appreciative of the people who have thanked him in person.

He also said he has no plans to slow down his years-long efforts to improve County Road 16.

“Basically, I just have to get out there and do it,” Baker said. “That’s just the way I am.”

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