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Suffolk County closes on Preserve property, site of future park

THE NATURE CONSERVANCY COURTESY PHOTO | An entrance to the North Fork Preserve property in Northville.

Suffolk County is one step closer to opening a large park and campground in Northville.

The county closed last Wednesday on the 307-acre tract of land known as the North Fork Preserve, more than half of which will eventually be used for active recreation such as camping.

The county Legislature voted 14-3 in October to spend $17.8 million for the former private hunting club. Riverhead Town agreed to contribute an additional $500,000 to the $18.3 million deal so long as trap and skeet shooting and all-terrain vehicles are not permitted in the park.

The land is broken into two sections, a 133-acre northern section that, with the exception of 2.6 acres, will remain undeveloped and will be used only for passive recreation such as hiking and horseback riding. A 173-acre southern section will be used for more active recreation like camping, said county Legislator Ed Romaine (R- Center Moriches).

When it finally opens to the public, the southern portion could also boast camping cabins, tennis and basketball courts, he said.

But due to the county’s budget woes, it is uncertain how long it will be before the park reaches its full potential and camping is offered.

“I would assume in 2012 the new administration would sit down and discuss plans,” Mr. Romaine said, adding the county needs more space for campers. “I have great faith in this.”

The deal was also heralded by The Nature Conservancy, a non-profit environmental group, which listed the property as one of 14 on Long Island that is a high priority for protection.

The park sits atop a large aquifer, it contributes water runoff into Long Island Sound and the land is home to several rare species, said Randy Parsons, the nonprofit group’s conservation finance and policy advisor. The deal will help protect water quality in the area, he said

“Whatever goes into the surface, usually ends up in the bays,” he said.

The acquisition is paid for through the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program. The town’s share is paid through the two-percent real estate transfer tax set aside for preservation.

The county is also hoping to acquire an equestrian center on a separate 40-acre portion of the property from which the development rights have already been acquired for farmland preservation, Mr. Romaine said. Officials say this is a permitted use on land that’s in the farmland preservation program.

At its meeting Dec. 6, the Legislature will vote on whether to take steps to acquire that property.

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