Tropical Storm Irene damaged the Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area's infrastructure two years ago, then superstorm Sandy struck last year, and many months later, remnants of the storms' destruction linger among cordgrass and mud flats at the 52-acre preserve.
Educators and conservation advocates have been urging Hempstead Town through letter-writing campaigns and petitions to rebuild the salt marsh preserve's infrastructure, but they say town officials have ignored their pleas.
"It's unfortunate that the town appears to view the marine nature study area as a neglected stepchild," said Guy Jacob, conservation chairman of Nassau Hiking & Outdoor Club Inc., and a fifth-grade teacher in Valley Stream. "It is unfortunate because the town can really play a role in fostering interest in natural sciences."
The site partially reopened in February after debris was removed from the trails. Now, advocates want the town to reconstruct the display boards along walkways, replace the eastern boardwalk damaged by Irene, replace the greenhead fly brown box -- a trap for the flies -- and rebuild or renovate the museum and aquarium rooms.
"The town has been restoring bulkheads, dunes and beach grass -- things that would help protect the safety of our residents," town spokeswoman Susan Trenkle-Pokalsky said in response. "That is where our priority has been. It's the Department of Conservation and Waterways staff that has been doing all the work. It does not mean the nature center won't be fixed, but it goes by priority."
The 43-year-old Marine Nature Study Area, on Slice Drive in Oceanside, is divided into eight instruction sites about its marine and estuarine environment. The preserve's classroom and aquarium are off limits to the public after they were damaged by Sandy. Visitors have access only to the trails and restrooms, which has limited the number of school group visits because there is no indoor teaching space, advocates say.
"The children who come for nature studies really need those facilities," said Jim Brown, president of the South Shore Audubon Society. "We are encouraging the town to put the preserve on the front burner rather than the back burner."
"It's a local facility that services a broad spectrum of people who have different interests and love it for different reasons," said Diane Bentivegna, of New Hyde Park, a retired literacy teacher for the Hewlett-Woodmere school district, who used to take her students there.
The town is seeking disaster assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency's public assistance program to repair damage to the preserve, FEMA spokesman Jim Homstad said.
"FEMA and the state of New York continue to work with the town to determine eligible damages," said Homstad, adding that funds are not disbursed until repair costs are incurred.
The remaining damaged pathway will be replaced with synthetic boardwalk this winter, but there is no estimated time frame for the rest of the repairs, town officials said.
"We have every intention of restoring and enhancing the area, whether we receive the funding or not," Supervisor Kate Murray wrote in a letter to Jacob last month.
Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area
Founded: Earth Day in April 1970
Type: Salt marsh preserve
Size: 52 acres
Location: 500 Slice Dr., Oceanside
Owner: Town of Hempstead
Damaged by: Tropical Storm Irene and then later by superstorm Sandy
Source: Town of Hempstead