For more than 70 years, Nevins Amusements brought smiles to children's faces — and put cash in the coffers of churches and fire departments.
Now, after the Nevins family closed the business about a year ago, the traveling carnival's Moriches home base will contribute to the community in a new way: as a verdant wetlands area with public hiking and walking trails.
Company owner Harold Nevins of Brentwood sold the 13.2-acre property on Montauk Highway in January for $660,000 to Southampton nonprofit Peconic Land Trust, which donated the land to the Town of Brookhaven for its open space protection program.
Nevins and his wife, Theresa, said in an interview it had become impossible to continue operating the carnival because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"You hate to stop making money," Harold Nevins, 80, said in an interview. "We had a carousel and a lot of different things. ... In today’s business, you have to keep working. Money doesn’t grow on trees."
The land trust purchased the property with a grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation that covers about 75% of the acquisition costs, said Josh Halsey, the trust's conservation policy coordinator. Town officials had targeted the land for acquisition because it is near Suffolk County-owned protected properties and land owned by the Suffolk County Water Authority.
State and Brookhaven officials said preserving the land, which runs along the Forge River, will help to protect groundwater, the sole source of drinking water for thousands of nearby residents.
"By preserving this property as open space, we have taken a giant leap forward to improve the water quality of the Forge River and our environmentally sensitive aquifer," Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said in a statement.
Brookhaven crews removed dilapidated structures and more than 30 tractor-trailers filled with carnival equipment, town officials said.
Hiking and walking trails will be added for bird watching and other passive recreation, officials said.
Harold Nevins said his parents once had lived on the property. In later years it became the place where the family would store carnival equipment, he said.
He said the company, founded about 75 years ago by his father, also named Harold, would spend summers going from town to town, setting up rides, concession stands and game booths at churches and fire houses. The company and its hosts would share the proceeds.
"His favorite part was the children — watching the children have fun on the rides," Theresa Nevins said.
"The people couldn’t wait for us to come there," Harold Nevins said.
The company did its last shows a few years ago. Then, as the coronavirus led to restrictions on public gatherings, the family managed to sell some equipment and made the difficult decision to close.
It was fun while it lasted, Harold Nevins said.
"I enjoyed it," he said. "I can’t say I didn’t."