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Westhampton trail honors late GOP leader

Friends, family and political associates of Edwin M. "Buzz" Schwenk dedicated a trail through the dwarf pine barrens in Westhampton in his honor on Friday.

Schwenk, who died in 2009 at age 86, was the Suffolk County Republican leader when the county gave Richard Nixon a 100,000-vote plurality -- the biggest in the nation. And he was party leader when Suffolk adopted a county legislature; all 18 seats in the first election went to Republicans.

His life seemed to have as many facets as a diamond, from his start in the family dairy business to becoming an entrepreneur who opened 14 drive-up dairy stores and executive director of the Long Island Builders Institute.

But Schwenk's biggest role was as an environmentalist, providing the political muscle to ensure the state legislature passed the Long Island Pine Barrens Act in 1993 -- protecting Suffolk's groundwater and 100,000 acres in the heart of the county. He also pushed for the special 2 percent real estate tax that all East End towns use to preserve even more open space.

Schwenk's wife and daughter were in Westhampton on Friday to hear lawmakers, environmentalists and others praise him, and to officially unveil the "Edwin M. Schwenk Dwarf Pine Plains Trail." The path begins at the Suffolk County Water Authority building on Old Riverhead Road just south of Sunrise Highway.

His daughter, Diana Urban, a six-term Connecticut legislator, told the crowd she and her dad had talked every morning, and didn't need a telephone. Those who remembered his booming voice nodded in agreement.

Suffolk Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) noted that people walking on the trail can hear the buzz of bees, and said naming it for a Buzz was especially fitting.

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