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William Floyd Estate visitors enjoy celebratory nature walk in Mastic Beach

George Stauffer, of Mastic Beach, inspects a fern

George Stauffer, of Mastic Beach, inspects a fern during a wild plant tour conducted by the National Park Service in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Fire Island National Seashore, held on the William Floyd Estate, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

MaryLaura Lamont's goal seemed ambitious: to identify 50 plant species during a 90-minute walk through the William Floyd Estate.

She was barely out of the parking lot before some onlookers started losing count.

Lamont, a longtime park ranger at the Mastic Beach preserve, glimpsed a noteworthy fern or vine every few steps as she led 30 Long Islanders on a walk Saturday morning to mark the 50th year since the Floyd family transferred 590 acres to the federal government.

William Floyd, one of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and the only one from Long Island, was born on the estate in 1734. His name graces the school district and the main thoroughfare in Mastic Beach, Mastic and Shirley.

Floyd's descendants gave most of the estate to the newly formed Fire Island National Seashore in 1965 to prevent the federal government from building a nuclear power plant there, Lamont said. In 1976, the family handed over the Colonial-era house where Floyd was born.

"People don't know what's here and don't know the cultural and historical and biological significance of it," said George Stauffer, 65, of Mastic Beach, a retired New York City Transit employee who regularly attends events at the estate. "It's a beautiful place."

Participants in the walk followed Lamont into a Long Island time capsule. She said the estate's oak-hickory forest had regrown to resemble the landscape that greeted settlers before the area was cleared for farming more than 250 years ago. One European linden tree, sporting a trunk 9 feet in diameter, was planted by Katherine Floyd around 1850 and is recognized as the biggest such tree in the state, she said.

Counts varied, but some participants said Lamont named 65 plants before the walk was done.

Frank DeNatale, 55, of Shirley said he wished more Long Islanders were aware of the estate, which he called a "hidden treasure."

At one point, Lamont crouched over a minuscule plant the Floyd family called "wood pink" but is more commonly known as mayflower or trailing arbutus. In the 19th century, the Floyd children had a springtime tradition of picking and bundling the flowers and sending them on the Long Island Rail Road to New York City, she said.

"Unfortunately, people don't even know this place exists and it's disturbing to me," said DeNatale, a retired Brookhaven Town housing inspector. "I come here often. Usually these tours only have me here."

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