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David Weld Sanctuary closes as officials struggle to deter vandalism

The Nature Conservancy's David Weld Sanctuary in Nissequogue

The Nature Conservancy's David Weld Sanctuary in Nissequogue has a new gate blocking off the parking area. The entrance is shown on Aug. 4, 2014. Credit: Chuck Fadely

If you hike along the trails at the David Weld Sanctuary nature preserve in Nissequogue, you'll be rewarded with vistas of steely blue waves, ancient boulders pushed by glaciers to Long Island's shores -- and, sometimes, a deposit of empty beer bottles. Or a scrawl of spray paint across a tree.

The Nature Conservancy, which owns the 125-acre preserve off Smithtown Bay, moved to close the site temporarily last week while it determines how best to stanch the steady stream of graffiti, litter and other petty vandalism that has marred the preserve over the last several years.

"We've seen the preserve shift from a nature preserve to a park" with many more visitors, said Derek Rogers, preserve manager with The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. "Unfortunately it's not being respected the way we need it to be."

Rogers said the preserve has been closed since Thursday, the gate to the tiny parking lot locked. The village of Nissequogue does not allow street parking, making access to the remote preserve by car now all but impossible.

Bob Kemmann, who has been a volunteer preserve monitor at the site for the last decade, said he's seen graffiti on everything from the dedication stone -- placed in honor of the Weld family, which donated the original section of land for the sanctuary -- to trees to an informational kiosk that the conservancy erected to help guide visitors.

"When I first saw the graffiti on the kiosk, I said, 'Oh boy, it's starting,' " Kemmann said. "It's sort of heartbreaking and it makes you angry."

The Nature Conservancy plans to meet with village officials to determine the best way to stop vandalism. Village officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

Rogers said some of the ideas include restricting opening hours or requiring users to phone The Nature Conservancy for the combination to a lock to get into the preserve, as is done at one of the group's other properties in Brookville.

"We just need to take a step back and look at things," he said.

On Sunday, Sayville resident Ken Kindler and his wife drove to the sanctuary, hoping that the dreary weather would mean the usually crowded parking lot would admit one more car. He was shocked to find the gate locked.

"I'm praying that it reopens," said Kindler, who is on the board of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference. "It's a special place, and it deserves to be protected."

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