On the first business day of 2013, many Islip residents panicked Wednesday when they saw that the gates of the South Shore Nature Center were locked in the morning.
After the majority Republican Islip Town board voted to end the town’s $82,000 annual funding for the nature center in East Islip in the pared-down 2013 budget, emotions ran high at several board meetings and supporters of the nature center launched petitions and pleaded with board members to change their minds.
Board members repeatedly said the center won’t close, but that they hoped to create a public/private partnership with a nonprofit to continue programming. Until then, they said, the nature center will be open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. as a passive park where residents can hike and bird-watch.
The locked gates at the South Shore Nature Center Wednesday morning were probably an accident, Councilman Anthony Senft said.
“I received a phone call today that it was locked and that was news to us,” Senft said. “The park will continue to be maintained by the town and our residents will continue to have access to the park while we decide how the park will be operated.”
Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt said the town is in talks with The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, which could potentially step in to take over the operations at the center. Senft said town parks Commissioner Joseph Montuori is recruiting local high school science teachers to teach summer science programs there.
The South Shore Nature Center’s former director, Alison Tews, has been laid off in the budget cuts but still lives on the property, and will until at least March, Bergin Weichbrodt said, adding that the town board would like to keep a nighttime presence there to discourage vandalism.
And rumors of development at the center are unfounded, Bergin Weichbrodt said. “That would not happen on our watch,” she said. “There will be no development there, period.”
Tews did not return a request for comment.
Above: Maxine Lu, front right, and Tom Doncourt, among the supporters of the South Shore Nature Center in East Islip, at Islip Town Hall. (Dec. 11, 2012)