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Group plans to clean up protected preserve in Uniondale

David Stolarz and Betsy Gulotta of the Friends

David Stolarz and Betsy Gulotta of the Friends of Hempstead Plains are organizing a cleanup of the Francis T. Purcell Preserve in Uniondale, seen on Saturday. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

In the middle of the Nassau Hub is a preserved piece of land tying Long Island back to its prairie roots that advocates say needs some TLC.

The Friends of Hempstead Plains, a nonprofit founded in 2001 to preserve native Long Island habitats, wants to bring the community together Friday to clean up the Francis T. Purcell Preserve on Hempstead Turnpike in Uniondale.

“There are some rare and endangered native plants that have existed in the area for hundreds of years,” said Betsy Gulotta, conservation project manager for Friends of Hempstead Plains. “We had a professional botanical survey done this past year, and we learned of a dozen or so more native plants.”

Some of the species native to the preserve are prairie grasses, milkweed flowering plants and the endangered sandplain gerardia, Gulotta said.

The county-owned, 65-acre Purcell preserve, which was established as a “perpetual preservation parkland” in 1988, has not undergone any maintenance by the county or the Friends group since 2009, Gulotta said.

“There are papers, and probably bags of garbage at the preserve. We’ve seen shopping carts in there, and some boards to make shelters,” Gulotta said. “Volunteers will be picking up litter, carrying out heavier items, and loading them onto county trucks to be taken away.”

According to Gulotta, Nassau County will be providing gloves, bags and trucks to haul garbage away on the day of the cleanup.

County officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The cleanup of the land will focus on the three acres closest to neighboring Long Island Marriott hotel.

“My managers will be participating in the cleanup, volunteering for three hours to beautify the community,” said Paul Evasick, general manager of the Marriott.

Evasick also said he hopes the cleanup will enhance the stay of his hotel guests. “The preserve is not very well-kept right now, and it’s been neglected,” Evasick said. “I hope that my guests will be able to walk through the preserve with the rest of the community, as part of a long-term goal.”

Nicky Hendricks-Holman, director of event management for the Marriott, will be participating in the cleanup.

“Overall, we are cleaning the environment. People don’t think about what effect throwing down their soda can or paper has on their community,” Hendricks-Holman said.

The Purcell preserve is one of the last pieces of original prairie that was plentiful before the area was industrialized.

Mitchel Air Force Base was built within the Hempstead Plains. That property was turned over in 1961 to Nassau County. Institutions such as Nassau Community College, Hofstra University, Long Island Children’s Museum and NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum now sit on the land, Gulotta said.

The cleanup will take place from 9 a.m. to noon Friday. Volunteers are wanted, and refreshments will be provided. Anyone interested in reserving a spot can call Gulotta at 516-317-7267.

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