Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 29 October 2010 00:00
Whoever said the third is the charm, was right when it comes to the meetings on the Muttontown Preserve. The Hoffman Center hosted the third meeting of Saratoga Associates (SA), the group that is creating a master plan for all of Nassau County Parks on Wednesday, Oct. 20, and it clarified the project’s mission.
Ralph Fumante of Oyster Bay Cove, chair of the Nassau County Open Space Park Advisory Committee, said that his group suggested to Nassau County that a master plan was needed for the preserves and parks it owns. He said, “The county had over 5,000 acres and never had a master plan for any of them. This is a good thing.”
Alison Peckett, LEED SA associate and landscape designer explained the goal of the master plan is to create a template for the other preserves in Nassau County. Muttontown preserve is unique in that it has equestrian trails and Chelsea Center. It also has a variety of ecological issues.
Ms. Peckett said, “That is why this preserve was chosen: because it has a lot of elements that many of the other preserves have. That it has equestrian trails is something that is unique. This hopefully will provide a template and basis for other preserves. They all need maintenance and identifying people who would be interested in getting involved.” She said as they began their look into the issues and solutions, “We spoke to local higher educational institutions and there are a lot of things the Muttontown Preserve could be used for such as research or volunteering or internships. The possibilities are endless.”
In making the presentation Bill Kuhl, senior principal and vice president of Saratoga Associates (SA) explained that in the current use of the preserve, 97 percent of it is horse trails with 3 percent for walkers-only. They added that there is no horseback riding allowed near Chelsea as per the deed. Saratoga Associates called the current trails “spidery” and said they would identify the primary trails working with the equestrian community. “Less spidery trails will cause less damage to the preserve,” they said. They hope responsible riders will keep to the major trails. Currently a volunteer does some of the patrol work, but they may eventually need an official trail keeper/patrol.
The Muttontown Horsemen’s Association is credited for being the only group that actually works to maintain the trails through sweat equity.
Saratoga Associates said many of the horse trails were shared by walkers but Rosemarie Colvin of East Norwich said she was afraid of encountering a horse on a trail, and that was what stopped her from using the preserve.
Kathleen Kleinman, president of the Muttontown Horsemen’s Association, said they have a great safety record in the preserve. “There have been no lawsuits; no one has been run over, never,” she said.
Someone else commented that what was worse was to have dogs off the leash coming at them – “it’s the surprise factor”, she said.
Dog owners, it appears, are delighted to allow their pets to run there, off the leash. Dogs are not allowed in the Nassau County Parks, something they intend to maintain, said Saratoga Associates. No dogs; no bikes; and no picnics without a permit are allowed.
Mr. Fumante commented later that horses have been pushed out of many county parks. Muttontown Preserve is the one where they are allowed. Walkers can find many sites he said, including the recently expanded Tiffany Preserve in Oyster Bay Cove. Welwyn in Glen Cove too is walkable and has the distinction of having the Holocaust Museum in the former mansion. Stillwell Woods in Syosset is used by bikers. The Pulling Estate at Yellow Cote Road and 25A is available for hiking, he said. There is something for everyone but the information needs to get out. That will be done by the county on their website, said Saratoga Associates.
Saratoga Associates were hired during the Suozzi administration. At that time Sean Rainey, then assistant deputy commissioner in the real estate department, was in charge of caring for the many historic properties the county owns. He worked to renovate rental units and bring them up to a fair market rent. The result of the work, as commented on by Michael Butkewicz (Director of Chelsea Mansion) is that its rental income over the past four years has gone 50/50 to the county to pay for maintenance staffing and to Chelsea to maintain the site. He said the county laid out the money four years ago and that the site has been restored and money is coming in. The mansion is being used as a wedding site.
It could be seen as the “Poster Child” for county properties.
Presently, Nassau Hall in Muttontown Preserve is rented to various not-for-profit groups. It is a fragile and beautiful house, and is not for public use. The property also contains the Williamsburg Village which they see as profiting from rehabilitation to serve as an event venue for children and education groups.
Chelsea, said Mr. Butkewicz, has been beautifully restored and the gardens, he added, are lovely. Saratoga Associates have been looking at all the elements involved in the 500 acre Muttontown Preserve and their draft plan is on the website MuttontownPreserveweebly.com. At the meeting Harriet Grimm, director of Landscape Architecture Studio and Alison Peckett, LEED, SA associate and landscape designer, read the draft plan as slides appeared on a Power Point presentation. (It is available as a pdf on the web.)
Saratoga Associates created a Guiding Principles list. As they talked of the various areas that need care such as preservation of natural resources, invasive species, etc., they said managers were needed for the various areas. That could mean one person from the county, or many people, but it meant funding, which is a problem.
At the Muttontown Preserve they will maintain the area as a natural and cultural resource but with camping which is not usually allowed at county parks, but has a history of occurring there, with a permit. No fishing, boating, picnicking (except with a permit) or ATVs are allowed.
The list showed that they had looked at all the differing elements in the preserve to maintain what was there; and not add things that would damage it. That would keep in line with what Mr. Fumante had said that there were many parks, each with a special kind of offering to the community.
The list of people needed included grant writers since parks needed capital investment. No preserves should be privatized SA added.
In November Saragota Associates will have another, final meeting to present their plan.
During the community comments SA’s Bill Kuhl said there will be a county employee to maintain control of the park.
Bill Niarakis, of the Hoffman Center, asked if money donated for the trails would be used for that purpose and Bill Kuhl ( Senior Principal and Vice President of Saratoga Associates) said yes.
Ms. Colvin said the preserve is known as a prime location for cross country skiing. SA said it will continue – “when there is snow,” commented Allison Leeds considering what happened last year when there was more rain than snow.
One of the first things currently on their proposed agenda is a new left hand turn lane for horse trailers so they can get into the Equestrian Center safely; and signage for the three major entrances to the preserve is on the list.
Charles Gaulkin commented that presently the preserve closes at 4:30 p.m., early for a park. That is a problem with staffing explained Mr. Kuhl. Ms. Kleinman added, that 20 years ago the preserve had 10 workers and now there is one full time and one part time worker. She said while the MHA has volunteers clearing the paths there is a need for professional staffing to address water runoff remediation; and the need for bluestone fill.
Charles Gaulkin asked for benches along the paths for resting – such as senior citizens need. An off-the-cuff response was that seniors needed exercise. Still SA said they were considering all the comments made that evening as they continue working on the final master plan.
Additionally, Ms. Colvin mentioned at the start of the meeting that the East Norwich Civic Association had requested that a representative of Saratoga Associates come to speak at a meeting but were refused. Eileen Krieb Deputy Commissioner of Parks Nassau County Department of Parks, Recreation & Museums explained that they were only allowed to present the finished master plan.
Ms. Colvin asked them to consider in their plan, the surrounding community of East Norwich which has no parks or recreation areas.