Part of the $300,000 investment will go toward upgrades to...

Part of the $300,000 investment will go toward upgrades to Weeping Willow Park in Riverhead. Credit: Google Maps

Riverhead officials will invest more than $300,000 in new funding for several parks and open spaces, including toward the creation of a preserve in Jamesport that is home to an American Indian burial ground.

Most of the money will come from a “community benefit agreement” with sPower Solar that the board approved May 22. The funding is part of a 20-megawatt solar energy project that Green Meadow LLC and sPower were in the process of completing on Middle Country Road in Calverton.

Among the most significant of the open space projects being funded is the creation of the Sharper Hill Preserve, which residents and the Greater Jamesport Civic Association had advocated for years to protect. The site is home to an American Indian burial ground estimated to be thousands of years old.

Suffolk County voted in April 2018 to approve the nearly $2 million purchase of about 11 acres of the property. Work on the preserve will start in 2020, according to town officials.

William C. Van Helmond, president of the Greater Jamesport Civic Association, said Tuesday that the group hoped the preserve would ultimately be “a sanctuary where people could visit history the way it was.”

“We’re thrilled about this because it predates America,” Van Helmond said. “With benches in there, you can take your grandchildren and say, ‘Before the United States became a country, this land was Indian land and they roamed this area and they buried their ancestors here.’ ”

The town board voted 5-0 at its Dec. 3 regular meeting to approve the funding. The money will go toward:

  • Playground equipment and tennis courts for Police Officers Memorial Park (formerly Bayberry Park)
  • Creation of the Sharper Hill Preserve
  • Playground equipment for George Young Community Center
  • Water for dog park, and resurfacing pickleball court for Stotzky Park
  • Upgrades to Weeping Willow Park
  • Two pickleball courts and water for dog park at Veterans Memorial Park
  • Resurfacing tennis courts for South Jamesport Beach
  • Upgrades to Sound Avenue Preserve

The parks and open spaces receiving funding were identified by town officials, the town’s Recreation Department, the Recreation Advisory and Open Space committees, civic associations and residents.

Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said Tuesday that the funding would be significant for the town's open spaces, which she said had not seen such investment in 10 years.

“It’s historic because for a long time, the town has put a Band-Aid on our recreation facilities and our open space, so this really allows some capital investment into these parks,” Jens-Smith said.

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