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North Hempstead will improve area around historic statue, but will keep the sledders away

The Mackay Horse Statue is partially surrounded by

The Mackay Horse Statue is partially surrounded by a fence at Gerry Park in Roslyn Monday, March 23, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Look, don't sled.

That is the message from North Hempstead to thrill-seekers inclined to sled the hills of Gerry Pond Park in Roslyn, home to a 95-year-old statue of a horse tamer and his prized steed.

The town, in an effort to prevent sledders from flying smack into the white marble statue, will erect a "winter fence" around the 33-foot tall, 25-ton artwork that is made of white Tennessee marble. The town has plans to enhance the area around the statue with a plaza of benches and historical markers, using $71,000 in funds from Nassau County.

The statue is one of two from the former estate of Gold Coast financier Clarence Mackay, modeled after the Marly Horses made for King Louis XIV of France and now at The Louvre in Paris. It is in the center of the park, where sledding is not banned. Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said while the town is unaware of any collisions with the statue from sledders, she wants to be "proactive" and prevent accidents.

"The purpose of the fence is to protect people who might be sledding in the winter from getting too close to the statue," Bosworth said.

The statue's twin had stood in front of Roslyn High School for 50 years, but the horse tamer's head was stolen and the statue is cracking and is now in storage. School alumni are attempting to raise $100,000 for its restoration.

North Hempstead Town Historian Howard Kroplick said he envisions a "net" near, but not covering, the statue and similar to ones used to line the course to protect downhill ski racers.

The historic statues were installed in 1920 at the Mackay estate, a 648-acre compound above Hempstead Harbor. The estate was demolished in 1947, the land sold off, and the statues were separated. The one now at the park had remained on the grounds and eventually became part of a private home. When the homeowners were considering selling their house, historians intervened, and the statue was donated to the town.

Municipalities across the country have banned sledding in parks, and the town last year considered restrictions to stop sledding at "Suicide Hill," part of the privately owned Plandome Country Club. But officials at the time balked at parking restrictions, calling them too prohibitive.

The Village of East Hills has a designated sledding area at its 50-acre park, site of the Village Hall and an amphitheater. William Burton, the village attorney, said the area is open to sledding in part to discourage sledders from visiting riskier slopes in the park.

It's a spot "where people could go so we wouldn't have these problems," Burton said.

The snow fence around the statue would replace bales of hay and a picket fence surrounding it now, and would be in place only during winter months.

Kroplick said the plans for the statue, scheduled for 2017, would complete the town's plans to honor the statue. Both artworks are "a piece of Roslyn history and Long Island history," Kroplick said.

Mackay horse statues

Built: 1920

One stands in Roslyn's Gerry Pond Park, part of the former Mackay estate that once graced nearly 700 acres above Hempstead Harbor. This statue stayed on the land after the estate was sold and the land subdivided. The statue was later donated to North Hempstead.

The second statue stood in front of Roslyn High School. It is now in storage waiting to be restored.

North Hempstead plans to convert, by 2017, the area around the Gerry Pond Park statue into a plaza, with benches and a historical marker.

The project will be paid for with $71,000 from Nassau's Community Revitalization Program.

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