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Muttontown Preserve Offers Public Advocacy Partnership Opportunities

Representatives of Saratoga Associates attended the April 28 East Norwich Civic Association to talk about their master plan for the Muttontown Preserve. The planning firm is working on a plan for the Muttontown Preserve to be used as a blueprint for Nassau County’s many open space preserves.

SA Vice President William B. Kuhl; Harriet M. Grimm, director of landscape architecture and Gary Haglich, with the NC Department of Parks, Recreation and Museum attended the ENCA meeting in response to a letter sent to SA in relation to several suggestions they had for the plan. The ENCA has been asking for SA to speak to the group of residents most affected by what will happen at the preserve.

While talking about the plan SA suggested a need for advocacy groups coming forward to help take advantage of some of the wonderful possibilities in the preserve such as restoring the Williamsburg Village at Nassau Hall as a child party venue; and restoring tennis courts at Nassau Hall and Chelsea by and for people interested in clay and grass courts. Both projects would include public access in some degree, and would help Nassau County bridge the economic gap and restore and maintain the preserve for public use.

Mr. Kuhl showed the PowerPoint presentation given to members of the community in October. The completed master plan is still to get its final review, including by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. All the work SA has done on the plan is available on the Web at “It’s a very transparent process,” he said.

Mr. Kuhl said he was appreciative of the help Daniel Kreisberg of Locust Valley, a Friends Academy professor who gave the planners information in terms of the archeology of the site and suggestions for future use of the preserve for higher education. The Master Plan was created with input from the community at steering committee meetings. The work involved considering the restoration of historic buildings; the equestrian trails; environmental and educational opportunities.

It’s a unique site,” said Mr. Kuhl, “It has the King Zog ruins, Chelsea mansion and Nassau Hall, as part of the site. Our goal is to find a balance for the use of what is there including the natural and cultural and scenic resources and to protect them.” Currently they have been looking at such items as the recreational opportunities, access and connectivity. Mr. Kuhl sees the site as being a great resource for higher education opportunities for the surrounding colleges.

Maintenance is a problem for Nassau County with their current economic crisis, therefore Mr. Kuhl said this is a good time to identify possible partnerships that will help with facility development and to repair the existing elements of the preserve.

 Some problems include: invasive species, and how to manage them; and the open fields that need to be mowed with care and maintained for nesting bird species.

Harriet Grimm said a positive affect of the meetings is that “people who never spoke to each other spoke.” Those most interested in the preserve, and there are many stakeholder groups, all learned about each other’s view of the site.

Besides hiking, running, jogging, horseback riding, cross country skiing, people have requested carriage rides in a loop through the preserve. No bikes are allowed, or shooting, motorcycles or excessive noise, she said.

Mr. Kuhl said there will be better indentification of trails, as well as trail maps since presently it is easy to get lost in the woods. They will be easy to follow and will link back to parking. There will be regular fire drills for rescue problems. They have already made sure that there are proper trails for emergency equipment, he said.

They see a need for packets of information - for about 10 kids and a teacher - for interpretive opportunities he said, with the aim of breaking down larger school groups that come by bus, into small sections.

He said the current buildings that are occupied/rented at Chelsea and Nassau Hall add security to the sites with residents there 24-hours a day. “They are our best security especially during the evening hours,” he said.

Advocacy Groups Needed

Most interestingly, Mr. Kuhl said advocacy groups are needed for the preserves; people who will be aware of when a tree falls over on a trail. “Things happen and advocacy groups are needed to bring things up to the county’s attention,” he said. Things that might interest local groups to become involved include the restoration of the old Moore greenhouse and garden which can be expanded into an interpretive center. [Planting Fields operates with a large group of volunteers who work maintaining their outdoor property. Such as the rose garden which is taken care of by dedicated volunteers.] Nassau Hall has a rose garden that can use some dedicated volunteers to refurbish, he said.

Setting Priorities

Mr. Kuhl said the preserve needs entrance signs. “I lived down the road and didn’t know it was here.” He added they didn’t want people coming in the thousands, but that it needs trail signs and a mapping system. He added there is a need for the entry roads at Chelsea and Nassau Hall to be reconfigured.

 He said Norway Maples are taking over a corner of the King Zog estate, near Muttontown Road. They are not a native plant and they rob nutrients from the soil and as a result there is no underbrush in that area. Over the years they have been identified in several discussions as worth cutting down.

 At Nassau Hall he said there is a trail called the Fairy House Gallery where students can collect sticks and build fairy homes. He suggested that BOCES can use the sites for landscape training. “Their manpower can take care of park areas,” he said.

Another area that needs attention is the site of the Zog Ruins. They need to be stabilized; areas need to be secured; viewing platforms and bird blinds are possibilities for the sites. Chelsea might be a site for music; or a big screen to see outdoor movies, he said.

The Patterson Nature Center building needs to be expanded with bus parking and rest rooms.

There is also the Williamsburg Village that could be used for children’s parties. It could be a private/public partnership venue. Ms. Grimm said it was a gift of the owner of Chelsea to his wife. They are a group of white buildings that are overgrown and deteriorating. They were put in to cheer up his wife, she said. Later Mr. Kuhl said it might have a 10-15- or 20 year lease for someone interested in restoring the venue.

Another interesting suggestion was to restore the tennis courts at Chelsea and Nassau Hall. Mr. Kuhl commented later that groups interested in playing on clay or grass courts could refurbish them. If arranged through the Parks Commissioner, it would need some public access during the week, and could have annual or two year leases. The courts could also work on short term leases renewable yearly and even for as little as 60 days. These ideas would be considered on a case by case basis he said.

“People can come up with ideas, and if they are viable, okay,” he said.

In the cases above, he said the county tries to keep public access available part of the time for Nassau County residents. But they will work with suggestions with a give and take attitude on both sides.

Mr. Kuhl said, “Mike Butkewicz has done a wonderful job at Chelsea, bringing the building back over the last few years.” Events are held for fees that are used to maintain the site.

Nassau Hall is used for not-for-profit office space. It is considered a fragile site and it is not expected to be used for other events.

Q and A Time

When asked how much it would cost to do the needed work at the Muttontown Preserve, Mr. Kuhl said it was not their mission to do that. Their job was to identify the needs of the preserve and have shown the possibilities it presents.

Nassau County Parks representative Gary Haglich said, “This whole plan is a way to get all the issues out; to get stakeholders together; but seeing the condition of our economic problems it has a timeline of about five years.” [Later he suggested 10 years.]

He said they would focus on priorities and as money comes up from grants or sponsorships do the work. “That’s what Nassau County is looking for at Sands Point and the smaller preserves. Each situation is different in terms of invasive species; historic buildings; upkeep; and ways to generate income.”

Mr. Haglich said they are working to restore Cedarmere in Roslyn Heights, with cooperation between the Gary Trust, the Roslyn Landmark Society and the county. They are restoring the garage and mill. He said, “As we are restoring the property but we see damage occurring to the mill. No one is there 24/7 on the site.” He was alluding to the fact that Nassau Hall and Chelsea both have tenants.

He complemented SA for doing a good job; bringing in experts; being open minded and listening to people’s ideas; and not having pre-conceived plans. “It’s a great opportunity for us in the county,” he said. That included getting all the stakeholders together. “It’s a plan, hopefully it will become a program in 10 years, resting on the economy and money.”

The top projects he said, that they have started on include: emergency roads; parking lot needs; and Nassau Hall painted – because all the paint was peeling.

Priorities include safety, access, and signage by marking the trail system for a variety of people to use. The trails will be better delineated he said, since you can see the impact of the horseback riders. He said they heard the community’s complaints. There will be no horses in some areas, and accurate mapping of trails should please people concerned with not enough hiking access. He said hundreds of people came out for cross country and were even using snowshoes during the snow, but added, we can’t guarantee snow in the winter. The plan still has to be brought to County Executive Ed Mangano, he said.

Spider horse trails will be discouraged/reduced since they damage the natural plants and can just double back. Trails have been blurred, they said, but in areas like Williamsburg Village, horseback riders will have to dismount and walk through that area to mitigate conflicts – and damage.

There are other fragile areas where they want people not to go into such as the vernal pools and for those areas there will be overlooks.

When asked for a park that uses best practices, Ms. Grimm answered Central Park. They have 30 years of aggressive plans to combat and remove invasive specials and public education as well as corporate sponsorship and a conservancy movement. “The county can borrow and learn from their system,” she said. Central Park is beautifully designed with special areas for rambles, forests and bird watching she added.

SA has a history of working across the state, on Long Island, and across the country which allows them to draw on their broad experiences said Mr. Kuhl.