The Riverhead railroad station got a makeover this week, courtesy of about 70 people — many of whom volunteered to help with planting new native plants and wild flowers at the station and cleaning up the area.
Representatives from Riverhead Town, Home Depot, several labor unions, Riverhead Townscape, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority all participated, according to Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, who organized the cleanup.
The MTA, Home Depot and Riverhead Town’s highway department and building and grounds department tore out some of the existing vegetation at the site in the days prior to Saturday’s cleanup.
The train station on Railroad Avenue was built in 1910 but has not been used as a ticket office or waiting room since 1972, although it’s still where trains stop in Riverhead.
Over the years, Riverhead Town and the MTA have been largely unable to find a tenant to occupy the station, even when it was offered rent-free. In 2014, the MTA signed a lease with Islandwide Transportation to use the train station as a waiting room and depot, but the MTA said the Mastic cab company was delinquent in its rent and never actually used the station, so they terminated the lease in 2015.
The supervisor said she met with MTA officials recently to discuss the needs of the blighted station, which included the installation of multiple security cameras; replacing frosted glass panels that block view of train tracks; relocating trees that block oncoming street traffic and bricking areas to make it safer and more handicapped accessible.
The MTA has already taken many steps to increase safety, visibility and upgrade the appearance prior to Saturday’s big volunteer cleanup day, she said.
This included correcting obstructed views, power washing the building, and making needed repairs. The MTA also has plans to add security cameras, the supervisor said.
“We have been really stepping up our efforts in making sure that we are a good neighbor with the community,” said Vanessa Pino Lockel of the MTA’s government and community affairs department. “So when the Riverhead supervisor reached out to us wanting to do a cleanup day, we were jumping at the chance to be supportive, and making sure that the community knew that the Long Island Rail Road was here to make it an easy process.”
The Riverhead Home Depot donated all the plants, mulch and peat moss as well as garbage bags and hoses used Saturday, according to Andy Carbone, the store manager.
He said they had five employees on hand Saturday, as well, and had done some work prior to that. Home Depot had made similar donations of time and materials to fix up Police Officers Memorial Park in Wading River in 2016.
Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead helped to curate a list of drought-resistant plans that are native to Long Island for use at the train station, Ms. Jens-Smith said.
A number of unions also chipped in. The Local 28 Sheet Metal Workers in New York City and Long Island had 12 members volunteering Saturday, while the Laborers Local 66 had about 20 people present.
“I think it is absolutely fantastic to see so many people down here caring about our town and about beautification of our train station,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.
The MTA is interested in renting the building out, she said, and will be issuing a request for proposals.
Ms. Lockel said the MTA is looking at all of its train stations, including Riverhead, and seeing what the best uses are for them.
“We encourage municipalities across Long Island to reach out and coordinate with us as we continue efforts to create a welcoming atmosphere for our customers who use and the residents who live near our stations,” LIRR president Phillip Eng said in a written statement.
“This is what community is all about,” said Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten. “Trying to take an area that’s been long forgotten and an eyesore, and try to make it beautiful and make it a viable part of our community.”
Jim Ellwood, president of 5 Town Rural Transit — a group that advocates for better public transportation on the East End — happened to be catching a train as the cleanup took place.
“I think this is a wonderful collaborative effort between the railroad and the town and community activists,” he said. “The cleaning of the station, it’s very much needed and it’s a welcome thing. Hopefully they can be maintained this way and I think there’s going to be more improvements as time goes on.”
Top photo caption: Volunteers plant flowers at the Riverhead Train Station Saturday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)