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Shelter Island nature preserve finally open to public

A man looks at a map after the

A man looks at a map after the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday at the Mildred Flowers Hird Nature Preserve on Shelter Island. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

 A Shelter Island nature preserve is now officially open to the public nearly 15 years after the property was purchased for conservation.

Suffolk County, Shelter Island Town and Dering Harbor Village purchased 13.7 acres west of Manhanset Road in 2001 and 17.1 acres on the east side in 2005. Together they comprise the Mildred Flower Hird Nature Preserve that has a combined 30 acres of pristine woodland with no invasive species.

It is the only public park in Dering Harbor, New York’s tiniest village on Shelter Island’s northern tip.

The property was not previously identified with signage until a ceremony Friday. There are no official hiking trails, although the woods are open and accessible, and hunting will be allowed by permit.

“Were excited about it because it’s long overdue,” said Gordon Gooding, chairman of the town’s Community Preservation Advisory Board. “My goal, since it’s off the tax rolls, is to open it for public enjoyment.”

Gooding said the town was looking to compile a map of all Shelter Island properties preserved through the Community Preservation Fund, whose coffers are filled through a 2% tax on real estate transfers.

Mildred Flower Hird’s daughter Esther Hunt, 96, whose family sold the property, cut the ribbon to the now officially designated park at Friday's ceremony.

Hunt said she chose the title Mildred Flower Hird because the three names paid tribute to her mother, Mildred, her grandfather, Edwin Flower, and her father, S. Ainsworth Hird.

“It’s all rather overwhelming,” Hunt said. “It’s kind of wonderful.”

“Our family has been part of this community for over 100 years and this gift is a way of us keeping that connection alive into perpetuity,” added her daughter Iris Robertson.

The property also will serve as a place of storm water recharge and wildlife habitat.

“It’s very bucolic and peaceful,” said Tim Hogue, who served as Dering Harbor mayor from 1992 until 2017 and was instrumental in the purchase. “I’m not against development, but it would have been a shame” if houses had been built there.

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