Kalers Pond Park in Center Moriches had become so overgrown with brush that drivers passing by on Montauk Highway may not have known the pond was there.
The Brookhaven Town park reopened this month after a $500,000 renovation featuring new handicapped-accessible paths and improved storm-water drainage. And some vegetation was removed to improve views of the lake, also known as Mill Pond.
“You can actually see the lake now,” said Suzanne McKeon, president of the Downtown Beautification Organization of Center Moriches and a member of the town’s Historic District Advisory Committee.
Brookhaven officials closed the park for about a month while crews — including town parks workers and local contractors — rebuilt the park for the first time in decades, Councilman Dan Panico said.
The park, once the site of a grist mill, had been donated to the town decades ago by the Kaler family, who had operated a farm there. Within the park is a memorial for 230 people who died in the July 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800.
The pond is a popular fishing spot stocked with trout by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Panico said. A plaque at the park says a fisherman named David Romeo set a world record there in 1984 by catching 3,001 largemouth bass in 77 days.
Over the years, neglect had left the park looking ragged and in need of repairs. A steep hill caused storm-water runoff to flow into the pond from Montauk Highway and hills in the park, officials said.
Brookhaven added retaining walls, porous pavers and a “rain garden” featuring native inkberry and blueberry plants to slow stormwater runoff, town Parks Commissioner Ed Morris said. Winding ramps enable handicapped park users to travel from the parking lot to a small beach on the pond.
“It’s a beautiful pond and aesthetically it’s great for the community,” Morris said. “It’s a great enhancement.”
Panico said new cedar fencing, now beige, will turn gray as it ages, giving the park a rustic appearance.
Next year the town plans to improve the parking lot and the Flight 800 memorial park, and add a launch ramp for kayaks and small boats, Morris said.
Panico, 37, of Center Moriches said the park had not been renovated “as long as I’ve been alive.”
“People have a park they can be proud of that’s more like Long Island’s natural look,” Panico said.
McKeon said some local residents felt the town made too many changes at the park, but she said the park had been “dilapidated” and needed a makeover.
“I don’t think it ruined the look,” McKeon said of the renovation. “I think it’s very pretty. I think they did a nice job.”