Once upon a time, almost a century ago, real estate developers ran ads in New York City newspapers promoting the joys of spending summers in bucolic Mastic Beach.
For the price of a small shack, city dwellers could escape the asphalt and concrete to go crabbing and canoeing. Fishermen filled Moriches Bay with their boats. Children spent entire days swimming in creeks and lagoons.
But the decades passed and Mastic Beach became a typical suburban community. Some residents say something was lost along the way.
"For me, living here in the community and working with the people in the community, it’s a shame," said Maura Spery, a 19-year resident and former mayor of the defunct Mastic Beach Village. "There’s nothing for the kids to do here connected to the waterfront."
She and others hope to change that and restore Mastic Beach’s historical role as one of Long Island’s links to its aquatic roots.
Spery and others formed the Mastic Beach Conservancy, a community effort to clean up a waterfront ravaged by pollution and Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. Their goal is to establish an education center focused on ecology.
Modeled on the Central Park Conservancy, which maintains that park with the help of donations and volunteers, the Mastic Beach group hopes to promote Long Island’s maritime history and water-based recreation.
"The nature itself is a big part of the center," said Spery, chairwoman of the group’s board of directors. "You don’t have to build this big, fancy thing. You already have 6 miles of waterfront. ... This is something special here."
The conservancy has kicked itself off with shorefront cleanups, including one on March 21, the first full day of spring, that attracted more than 100 volunteers who stuffed 123 bags full of trash, Spery said.
Brookhaven Councilman Dan Panico said the conservancy’s mission aligns with the town’s goal to revitalize Mastic Beach.
"The beauty is the ... unspoiled waterfront that you don’t find anywhere," said Panico, who grew up in the hamlet. "There’s so much potential in Mastic Beach. It’s not a case of if it happens, it’s a case of when it happens."
Memories of summer days with her family in Mastic Beach led Sue Wicks to move back to the community from her previous home in Brooklyn.
The Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer and WNBA All-Star, who now plies the waters of Moriches Bay as founder of the Violet Cove Oyster Co., hopes to create a hatchery to help reseed the bay with shellfish.
"This would be a tremendous jewel in the park system of Brookhaven," said Wicks, the conservancy’s treasurer. "Moriches Bay is one of the healthiest bays on Long Island. I don’t take it lightly. It‘s something we have to take care of."
Shellfishing isn’t what it once was, Wicks said, but it could be on the precipice of a "renaissance" with enough community support.
"I don’t know anybody from Long Island who doesn’t get nostalgic and a little teary-eyed" recalling the heyday of Long Island’s baymen, Wicks said. "Long Island, that’s what we have: this beautiful water."
ROAD TO REVITALIZATION
Some goals of the Mastic Beach Conservancy:
- Become a nonprofit organization that can solicit donations.
- Regular cleanups of the waterfront.
- Build publicly accessible nature trails.
- Offer arts, design and architecture projects inspired by wetlands and conservation efforts.
- Establish community and youth educational incubators to study wetlands.
- Encourage oyster seeding in bays.