A deer walks by the South Shore Nature Center in...

A deer walks by the South Shore Nature Center in East Islip. (Feb. 18, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

At the end of 2012, the future of the South Shore Nature Center in East Islip was uncertain, and the sanctuary's supporters were clamoring for answers.

As Islip officials prepared the town's 2013 budget facing projections of a $26 million deficit, they cut spending severely and eliminated funding to some groups.

One of the casualties of those cuts was the South Shore Nature Center -- its $82,400 budget, which paid for a naturalist and some part-time staff there, was eliminated as of Jan. 1, and rumors circulated that the 200-acre wildlife preserve was going to be sold and developed.

But those rumors were eventually put to rest by members of the town board, who worked with a panel of nature center supporters and nearby nonprofits to come up with a plan to keep the center open.

And last week, the town board voted to authorize Supervisor Tom Croci to enter into an agreement with the Seatuck Environmental Association, an Islip-based environmental conservancy group, to take over operations at the nature center, which serves as a wildlife sanctuary and educational outlet.

"This is a great place, a gem in our community," Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt said after the board passed the resolution. "We don't want to lose it."

After the initial outcry when the public learned that funding for the center would be cut, Bergin Weichbrodt and Councilman Anthony Senft, along with the panel they had convened, worked to create a public-private partnership, a cost-saving move that's been a trademark of the mostly Republican administration.

"I think this is the best-case scenario for the town," Senft said. "We have eliminated town spending, yet we've enhanced this particular park. The operations at this park will become better as a result of our relationship with Seatuck."

The Friends of the South Shore Nature Center, a vocal group of supporters who created a Facebook page to rally for the center, located at 130 Bayview Ave., have praised the resolution publicly and on their page.

Though Seatuck executive director Enrico Nardone said the legal agreement between the town and his group hasn't been drawn up yet, Seatuck's assumption of responsibility will mean that educational programming and conservation efforts will be restored, and that the center will no longer only be used as a passive park, which has been its status since funding ended.

"Two hundred acres in western Suffolk is valuable turf for wildlife, so we're interested in that for sure," Nardone said. "That's the core of our mission, so anything we can do to protect the property is important to us."