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Century-old house in Brookhaven to become nature center

Washington Lodge, a century-old house in Brookhaven hamlet,

Washington Lodge, a century-old house in Brookhaven hamlet, is slated to become a public nature center highlighting Long Island's native wildlife. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A century-old house in Brookhaven hamlet is inching closer to becoming a public nature center highlighting Long Island’s native wildlife.

The nonprofit Art & Nature Group last week held a “passing of the keys” ceremony to announce a 10-year agreement with Brookhaven Town to manage the 9-acre Washington Lodge, on South Country Road.

The nonprofit plans to develop an environmental education center at the site featuring live animals, beekeeping classes and wilderness survival training. The facility will be called the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery, or CEED.

Art & Nature vice president Eric Powers said CEED would be the fulfillment of “a lifelong dream” to augment local school programs by offering kids a chance to see live animals such as owls and red-tailed hawks. He said a summer solstice celebration will be held on the property on June 23.

“We’re going to be lighting that candle for people and getting them back to nature,” Powers said. “We need a society that helps people live in harmony with nature.”

Washington Lodge — named for a former owner, Belgium-born inventor George Constant Louis Washington — has been vacant for about seven years since it was sold by the Marist Brothers, a religious order that used it for retreats.

The site includes 2 acres owned by Brookhaven Town and about 7 acres jointly owned by the town and Suffolk County.

Art & Nature president Rebecca Muellers said she hopes to work with a famous neighbor — actress Isabella Rossellini, who owns an organic farm nearby — on future projects. Rossellini, who attended the ceremony, raises chickens and promotes farm-to-table agriculture.

“We already have schools coming, so I imagine the program would be expanded so not only can they come to the farm, but they can come to see the animals,” Rossellini said.

Muellers said CEED officials hope to begin offering programs in the next year or two. They are trying to raise $1 million to refurbish the three-story lodge, which has been broken into by vandals and raccoons.

The lodge must be upgraded with new plumbing, electrical wiring and septic systems, she said.

The nonprofit has a 10-year license with the town to use the property, with an option to extend the license for an additional 10 years, Muellers said. In exchange for paying $1 a year in rent to the town, the nonprofit is responsible for maintaining the property, she said.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said CEED could “make a huge difference to this community.”

“I think this will have the opportunity to revolutionize what we do for the environment,” he said. “The environment is something we need to protect each and every day.”

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