North Fork Preserve, a former hunting lodge in the hamlet...

North Fork Preserve, a former hunting lodge in the hamlet of Northville has plans with Suffolk officials to create a county regional park on a 311 acre site. (Aug. 8, 2011) Credit: Randee Daddona

Suffolk parks officials Monday disclosed plans for the county's "last great park" on a sprawling private hunting preserve in Riverhead.

Conceptual plans for the 350-acre park surfaced in the county Legislature's environment and planning committee as officials outlined plans that include space for RV and tent camping, and cabins to accommodate 240 families.

It would be the largest county park on the North Fork.

"This parcel is a gem," said County Executive Steve Levy, noting that the property is the largest remaining tract on the county's acquisition list. "To get 300 contiguous acres like this is something to be treasured."

Officials described a far more active recreation complex than was envisioned when the purchase first was considered five years ago.

The plans -- which officials say could take years to develop fully -- include an equestrian center, basketball and volleyball courts and a spray park. Those and the other amenities would be located on the southern 180 acres of the site bordering Sound Avenue; the northern acreage would be devoted to hiking, horseback riding and bicycle trails, officials said.

Pamela Greene, county real estate director, said Suffolk already has contracts to buy 300 acres of the preserve and she expects the entire deal to close before year's end.

Greene declined to disclose the price until a purchase resolution is filed with lawmakers. Riverhead Town would share 5 percent of the purchase price.

One part of the plan drew fire from the Long Island Farm Bureau and the Peconic Land Trust. The groups expressed concern that parks officials want to include 50 adjacent acres already in the county's farmland preservation program. Sara Gordon, a Trust project manager, said that could set a precedent that would loosen restrictions on other properties in the county's landmark agricultural program.

But county officials said the acreage -- owned by the preserve but protected by the county program -- would be for the planned equestrian center, an accepted agricultural use.

Levy said the park purchase would not increase Suffolk's $179-million budget shortfall because certain sales tax revenues already are set aside for open space acquisitions.

"These are the kinds of purchases that 50 years down the road folks are going to be saying, 'Thank goodness they had the vision not to allow it to be plowed over,' " he said.

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