Long Islanders who flocked to parks and nature preserves as an escape from the COVID-19 pandemic know all about the beauty and bounty of our green spaces. Those sanctuaries are and have always been one of the calling cards for our region.
Now there is a chance to bolster that network, adding some 85 acres to the Oak Brush Plains State Preserve near Deer Park by December, if Gov. Kathy Hochul signs legislation that sailed through the State Senate and Assembly earlier this year. There is no need for her to wait.
The parcel in question used to be part of the Pilgrim State Hospital grounds, and would add to a special, rare and pristine landscape of scrub oaks. It’s one of the last traces of what used to be a vast transitional forest between the plains of western Long Island and the pine forests in the center and to the east. Due to post-World War II development in the area, that landscape is all but gone.
The existing preserve is one of the largest vestiges of open space in western Suffolk County, particularly stark given how so much of our public land is gathered on the coasts or devoted to recreation. The state preserve, also known as Edgewood, is a popular destination for hiking, biking, dogwalking, birdwatching, and nature photography. The new parcel will provide even more space for those activities and other exploration.
This plot of land was once considered as a possible site for an ambitious truck and rail facility meant to reduce the amount of long-haul truck traffic across the length of Long Island. That plan died years ago due to community opposition and environmental considerations, and it’s long past time that Long Islanders get real use out of this acreage.
Safeguarding the land is crucial from a groundwater protection perspective, for its role in recharging our aquifer.
This is an opportunity to preserve the plot as a “museum piece” for future generations, says John L. Turner, senior conservation policy advocate with the Seatuck Environmental Association.
Indeed, students and visitors can get a sense of what the primeval environment looked like centuries ago, including — apparently — for George Washington, whose post-Revolutionary War tour of Long Island included this general area. The nation’s first president wrote in his diary of the “low scrubby Oak” of the region that was “intermixed with small and ill thriven Pines.”
Penned in by suburban development, this gem of history still stands. In the middle of the preserve, “you can almost have silence,” Turner says. And at night, he has heard whippoorwills.
Such discoveries and diversions should be available to all Long Islanders, forever.
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