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Historic Brookhaven hamlet home will become environmental center

Rebecca Muellers and Eric Powers, president and vice

Rebecca Muellers and Eric Powers, president and vice president respectively of the Art & Nature Group, inspect the plans for the renovation of the Washington Lodge in Brookhaven on Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. Credit: Joseoh D. Sullivan

A nonprofit group plans to renovate a century-old house in the hamlet of Brookhaven as an environmental education center for school field trips and tours.

Brookhaven Town, which owns the 9-acre property on South Country Road, has agreed to award a contract to the Art & Nature Group to manage and operate the grounds known as Washington Lodge.

The nonprofit plans to call the facility the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery, or CEED.

Rebecca Muellers and Eric Powers, the local nonprofit’s president and vice president, said their multifaceted plans include exhibits focusing on Long Island ecology, maple syrup demonstrations, and nature photography and art displays.

“There’s something here for everyone,” said Powers, 46, of Stony Brook.

The property — named after Belgium-born inventor George Constant Louis Washington, who lived on the land about 100 years ago — has been vacant for about five years since it was sold by the Marist Brothers, a religious order that had used the house as a retreat center.

The town and the Brookhaven hamlet-based nonprofit Post-Morrow Foundation bought a 2-acre parcel with the house in 2011 to shield it from developers; the foundation later deeded its share to the town. Suffolk County and Brookhaven jointly purchased an additional seven acres, said John Turner, a land management assistant for the town.

He said the property — dotted with maple and mulberry trees and covered by native grasses and wildflowers — should be protected from development because it is near Beaver Dam Creek and surrounded by nearby farms, including one owned by actress Isabella Rossellini.

“The town board wanted to turn what is rightfully viewed now as an eyesore . . . and take steps to potentially make it a community asset,” Turner said.

Washington’s house is boarded up and the public is not allowed inside. Muellers said her group is hoping to raise up to $1 million over 10 years to restore the three-story structure.

The 7,280-square-foot building would house exhibits and offices and could become what Muellers called “Long Island’s first nature retreat center,” with 10 rooms for overnight guests.

The upgraded lodge also could house an environmental library and exhibits featuring Washington — who developed the first mass-produced freeze-dried coffee — and Environmental Defense Fund co-founder Dennis Puleston.

The group is recruiting volunteers and raising about $50,000 in hopes of opening in a year or two.

“We want to engage the public and provide programs as quickly as possible,” said Muellers, 46, of Huntington Station.

Town Councilman Michael Loguercio, who represents the district, said the lodge could serve as an educational resource where children can learn about the environment and life early last century.

“It’s just another facility where people can go and learn about the rich history and culture that we have right here on Long Island,” Loguercio said.

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