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Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park: A ‘civic success story’

Fred Drewes, left, a park volunteer, and Tom

Fred Drewes, left, a park volunteer, and Tom Carbone, board member and secretary of the Heritage Trust, near one of the gardens at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, on May 5, 2016 Credit: Ed Betz

Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park had an inauspicious start.

What had begun more than 15 years ago as a successful community effort to block a proposed Home Depot became a prolonged squabble over the site where the store was to be located.

Now the park — opened in 2003 following joint efforts by residents and Brookhaven Town and Suffolk County officials — is considered a model of civic and government cooperation.

Residents and officials forged a compromise: The county bought the 17-acre site, the town built baseball and soccer fields, and a community nonprofit operates the park.

“It’s a wonderful civic success story,” said Fred Drewes, 79, a retired Suffolk County Community College professor who works as a park volunteer.

Brookhaven and Suffolk officials are following the same concept in Selden, where the town is building ball fields on land bought by the county. And county Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has proposed a similar arrangement for a site in Middle Island where a vacant department store was demolished last month.

“We’re looking for more opportunities to partner with the county,” Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said. “We’re looking at this as a model, and we’re looking to do more of these things.”

Heritage Park — affectionately known to locals as the Wedge, because it is wedged between Patchogue-Mount Sinai Road, Mount Sinai-Coram Road and state Route 25A — sits on a former pumpkin farm that had been among the last remnants of Mount Sinai’s agrarian past before housing developments reshaped the community in the 1980s.

Residents had tied green ribbons to their mailboxes as a silent protest against the Home Depot proposal. In 2000, county officials used funds from the Community Greenways Fund to buy the land from the McGovern family.

“We had planned out a park years before as part of our hamlet study,” said Lori Baldassare, president of Heritage Trust, the nonprofit that operates the park. Town officials wanted to build athletic fields, but residents preferred “a community gathering place,” she said.

Today the park includes ball fields, a walking path, gardens, an outdoor amphitheater for shows and a community center designed to resemble an 18th century barn.

“It was a compromise because ball fields are certainly part of the park,” Baldassare said.

The trust raises about $250,000 a year to operate the park, stage concerts, show movies and host events such as an upcoming car show, she said. The nonprofit depends on volunteers to maintain the grounds and plant gardens.

The town operates the ball fields and mows the grass.

“There’s always, like, push and pull because the nonprofit feels the town should do more and the town probably feels the nonprofit should do more,” she said. “That’s probably normal. I feel it’s a good relationship.”

In a few weeks, flags will line the park’s “Avenue of America” to celebrate Memorial Day.

“We thought it was a good idea for our hamlet . . . to have this central park idea,” Drewes said. “And it’s turned out to be just that.”

Features of Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park

  • Heritage Center: Community gathering place including artifacts from local farms.
  • Outdoor amphitheater: For concerts, movies and other events.
  • Recreation: Two baseball fields, soccer field and a playground.
  • Avenue of America: Tree-lined walking path with stone pavers for all 50 states.
  • Gardens: Maintained by community volunteers.
  • Knoll: Hill used for sledding in winter, daffodils in spring.

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