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Riverhead advocates want natural beauty of Calverton site protected

They say the pending $40 million land sale of more than half the former Grumman site is a threat to wildlife and scenery enjoyed by hikers and birdwatchers.

Christy Hawkins, with fellow civic group members Steve

Christy Hawkins, with fellow civic group members Steve Kuhl, Don Hawkins and George Bartunek, on a trail off Grumman Boulevard in Calverton recently. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The vast former Grumman aerospace site in Calverton is being eyed for development, but advocates say it holds hidden treasures for hikers and bird-watchers, and it needs to be protected.

Rare plants such as tooth-cups, slender pinweeds and Wright's panic grass, as well as endangered tiger salamanders and short-eared owls populate the 2,900-acre property.

Riverhead residents and East End environmentalists have planned a Saturday event to bring attention to the importance of protecting the natural assets of the Enterprise Park at Calverton, known as EPCAL. And the pending $40 million land sale for more than 1,600 acres of the site raises the stakes, they said.

Steve Kuhl, an Aquebogue resident who regularly walks the area along with his wife and two dogs, said much of it hosts a variety of plants, trees and wildlife. The area — which includes portions of the Long Island Pine Barrens, Suffolk County's Special Groundwater Protection Area and the Peconic Estuary watershed — has become a well-known site for bird-watchers, he said. 

“There’s a lot of undeveloped, very picturesque property there,” said Kuhl, a member of EPCAL Watch, a civic group that monitors changes at the EPCAL property. "It’s been our little secret for the longest time."

Riverhead is finalizing a land deal at the property with venture group Calverton Aviation and Technology, which wants to use the land to expand operations for co-partner Luminati Aerospace. Kuhl said he and other group members are worried some of the areas on the property will not be accessible to the public if the land is sold.

To call attention to the natural elements of the site, the group is organizing its second annual Earth Day EPCAL Walk at 2 p.m. Saturday. Organizers are planning a guided walk along the Veterans Bike Path to highlight the property's ponds, old-growth trees and rare grasslands.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations protect some areas of the park, such as ponds in the industrial core. Riverhead officials said they would have to first finalize the sale and then send the venture group's proposed site plan to the state DEC to determine which areas cannot be developed. 

Amy Herbold, Triple Five's director of development said: “We anticipate that portions of the property will remain open and accessible to the public and look forward to working with the community in preserving the natural beauty of the EPCAL site.” 

Calverton Aviation representatives did not reply to requests for comment.

Besides hosting vernal ponds — seasonal pools that support species such as tiger salamanders — the property’s walking and bicycle trails are important for helping people to appreciate nature, said Mark Haubner, vice president of Mattituck-based advocacy group the North Fork Environmental Council.

“It’s special, it’s different, and we need it,” Haubner said. “In any history of environmental protection, we do this so we have solitude, so we have time to reflect, so we can get away. We don’t need to hear cars and leaf blowers on a Saturday.”

Haubner said organizers ultimately wanted to see businesses at the EPCAL property that would bring “real jobs and high tech” but would also have “a smaller footprint with an environmentally conscious business that … will still preserve the area for its unique character.”

About the Enterprise Park in Calverton

  • Property used by Grumman Corp. until 1996, when the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant closed.
  • Tiger salamanders, short-eared owls and banded sunfish are among the endangered animals found on the property, according to the New York Natural Heritage Program’s report on state-listed animals. Endangered Northern cricket frogs and rare New Jersey Pine Barrens tiger beetles are also on the property, the report states.
  • Rare plants that the report cited on the property include rose coreopsis, threatened species such as comb-leaved mermaid weed and small floating bladderwort, and endangered plants such as coppery St. John’s wort, silvery aster, Carolina redroot, autumnal water-starwort and Pine Barrens bellwort.
  • For more information or to participate in Saturday's walk at the property, email EPCALwatch@gmail.com.

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