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West Meadow Beach lecture series teaches LIers about nature

Stephanie Mitchell, 58, places a beached rock covered

Stephanie Mitchell, 58, places a beached rock covered with sea snails back into the water during the "West Meadow Wanderings" nature walk at West Meadow beach. (Aug. 16, 2012) Credit: Amy Onorato

Assemb. Steve Englebright stood in front of his tour group at West Meadow Beach dressed in a clean, blue button-down shirt and a pair of jeans stained with dirt.

In his hand, Englebright who is also a geologist, held a small, 19th century iron axe – a strange accessory, but one he brought with a purpose.

“The edges are soft, unlike a steel axe,” said Englebright (D-Setauket). “It’s so I can break a rock evenly without sending pieces of it everywhere.”

On Thursday, Englebright led a nature walk exploring the physical, biological and geological history of West Meadow Beach. The walk was part of the “West Meadow Wanderings,” a summer lecture series sponsored by West Meadow Beach and the Town of Brookhaven.

“We have programs for 3-year-olds up to older folks,” said environmental educator Eileen Gerle, who leads several nature programs throughout the year at West Meadow. “It’s a nice, broad range of people getting education about the environment and the importance of saving it.”

Englebright and Gerle led a group of older adults through patches of tall grass, away from the commercial hustle and bustle of the main part of the beach and onto the wet sand exposed by low tide.

As the water slowly crept up on the group, they discussed wildlife exposed by the absence of the sea and the history of the formation of the shoreline.

At one point, Englebright reached down and picked up a rock that was covered with Crepidula fornicata, a type of sea snail with a slipper shell. Unable to live successfully without water, Englebright asked for a volunteer to place the rock back into the ocean.

With her shoes tossed casually into the sand, Stephanie Mitchell, 58, of Setauket, was happy to oblige.

“I always try to come down here every time he [Englebright] leads a lecture,” Mitchell said, as she placed the rock down firmly in the sand underneath the rising tide, barefoot and ankle deep in water.

Later on in the lecture, Gerle found an oblong-shaped rock along the beach. Upon closer inspection, Englebright hypothesized that the clay rock was fossil shaped from the reeds of a tree formed by soft clay that hardened years ago.

The walk ended at the West Meadow salt marsh, where group members were invited to drink cold, clean water from a natural artesian well.

The lecture series continues until Sept. 13.

“For people who are into science and nature, these lectures are very informational,” said group member Norm Gopen, of East Setauket. “They have a lot more information that you wouldn’t find at school or in textbooks.”

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