A boarded-up military barge, which once served as a popular floating restaurant in Southold, will get a new identity over the next few years as state officials turn the reed-covered site into a boating and kayak launch area.

The 3.2-acre site, which is nearly obscured off Old Main Road, will be the state Department of Environmental Conservation's first public access spot on Peconic Bay. The $200,000 project is expected to draw people back to where restaurant-goers once watched as baymen raked clams that soon landed on patrons' plates.

"Times have changed," James King, president of Southold's town trustees, reflected Monday. "The water has changed. . . . The atmosphere has changed."

Local and state officials were looking to the future, not the past, as they gathered in front of the former World War II ammunition barge to talk about the new access site. But in a nod to the past, the old barge will again become a fishing station as it originally was when the Denson family bought the site in 1938 and opened their fishing station in the 1940s.

Carol Reiter Denson, on hand for the ceremony, said the state was doing exactly what she and her husband, Costel, wanted by transforming it into a public water-access site.

The new improvements at the site will be paid for by the DEC, using federal funds distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and raised through special taxes on fishing equipment and import duties on fishing tackle, yachts and pleasure craft.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The $2 million property was purchased through a federal Aid to Sports Fish Restoration grant and a donation from the Carl D. and Helen Reiter family that owned the property. The state closed on the property on Dec. 26.

The work is one of four projects on Long Island announced by the governor's office. They are part of a $17 million effort to improve outdoor recreation facilities across the state and all are to begin this summer.

Along with the Hashamomuck Waterway access in Southold, the state will spend $750,000 to reconstruct a dam and build a canoe slide on the Peconic River in Riverhead, $300,000 to create boat access sites on Forge Pond and Salamander Pond in Calverton, and $50,000 for improvements at Mullener Pond in North Merrick.

Among the projects statewide are new parking sites, signs and kiosks, which will make it possible for people to access 7,200 acres of forest preserves along the Hudson River between Newcomb and Indian Lake, the governor's office said. The areas have not been open to the public for 100 years, the governor's office added. New York City will get $134,500 for five projects, including $26,300 for an access trail and handicapped-accessible parking at North Mount Loretto state forest in Staten Island.