State officials said the acquisition would help improve coastal water...

State officials said the acquisition would help improve coastal water quality on the Long Island Sound. Credit: James Carbone

The state’s $2 million purchase of a 6-acre property along Flax Pond in Old Field will preserve an environmentally sensitive area while enabling students and researchers to study the effects of climate change, officials say.

The site — two parcels formerly occupied by a private home — has been added to 146 acres of state-owned property near the Long Island Sound, including the pond and adjacent land off Shore Road, where Stony Brook University researchers study wetlands and wildlife, and how they are affected by rising sea levels caused by global warming.

Stony Brook scientists use the pond for college classes and programs geared for high school students, said Larry Swanson, interim dean of the university’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

“The idea that this pond isn’t going to be developed is extremely important,” Swanson said. “This purchase really helps to preserve the natural integrity of the pond itself.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced the purchase on Nov. 3. State officials said in a news release the acquisition would help improve coastal water quality on the Long Island Sound by reducing wastewater runoff.

Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) said in a statement the purchase would “enhance efforts to protect the coastal salt marsh and uplands for water quality, wildlife habitats, scientific research and education, and nature enjoyment.”

The land and pond are inhabited by deer, red fox, hawks and shellfish, officials said.

The DEC bought the land from Manhattan-based nonprofit Open Space Institute, which had purchased it in January 2016 for about $2 million from a resident who lived on the property. The institute demolished an aging house and paid off more than $1 million in tax liens before selling the land to the DEC, said Terrance Nolan, a senior vice president for the institute.

The site is a wooded tract that runs uphill from the pond and features sweeping views of a barrier beach and the Long Island Sound.

“I was swept away by how beautiful it was,” said Nolan, a Huntington native.

Swanson said scientists also use Flax Pond to study the evolution of plant growth and the impact of rising salt water levels on wooded areas near wetlands. The university operates a laboratory on land near the pond that was opened in the 1960s by the DEC.

“This will give us a chance to expand where we take classes,” Swanson said. “It’s overall a wonderful place, not only to be out in nature, but we also have the lab itself where we can undergo controlled experiments.”

Flax Pond is “a real eye-opener” for many children, especially those who live in communities away from the water, Swanson said.

“Many of the kids have never gone to either the South Shore or the North Shore of Long Island, and this is their first venture to a wetlands environment,” Swanson said. “They’re amazed because they’ve only read about them in books.”

Flax Pond facts

  • Centuries ago, the then-freshwater pond used to grow flax, a plant that produced fibers used for yarn and string.
  • Around 1803, the pond was dredged when flax was no longer commercially popular. Dredging caused salt water from Long Island Sound to displace fresh water.
  • In 1966, state officials created the 146-acre Flax Pond State Tidal Wetland, including 134 acres of wetlands and 18 acres of adjacent uplands.
  • The state Department of Environmental Conservation manages habitat protection on the pond.
  • Stony Brook University operates Flax Pond Marine Lab on the site.

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