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Open Space Committee outlines ways to upgrade properties

Since 1998, Riverhead Town has purchased 18 properties totaling more than 318 acres for open space preservation, at a cost of over $23 million.

But now, the town’s Open Space and Park Preserve Committee says that with money for land acquisitions limited, they’d like to concentrate more on sprucing up land it already has.

For starters, the town is planning to put signs that read “Town of Riverhead Open Space: A Community Preservation Fund acquisition,” on lands purchased for open space preservation. The signs can be made in-house at the highway department, officials said.

“As you’re well aware, there’s a funding problem for us to purchase open space,” Janis Leonti, the committee chair, told the Town Board at its work session Thursday.

That committee is charged with identifying land to be acquired for open space preservation, as well as coming up with plans for the utilization, maintenance and management of lands already owned or acquired by the town.

Ms. Leonti and vice chair Nancy Gilbert gave an overview of the committee’s goals at the work session.

Normally, the Open Space committee has a rating system used to either recommend or reject properties for preservation, but now the committee is turning its efforts more toward stewardship of existing properties rather than acquisition of new ones, Ms. Leonti said.

Properties that have been slated for improvements include the gravel parking lot at the Sound Avenue Nature Preserve. The property was purchased in 2006 and opened in 2012. It features hiking trails that culminate in an open meadow. New trash receptacles are proposed for the site, a bicycle rack with native trees and shrubs adjacent to it and new bird nesting boxes.

The estimated cost is $10,000, according to the committee’s estimates, which were done by the town engineering department.

The Weeping Willow Park on West Main Street, acquired in 2009, has a parking and picnic area along with an area to launch canoes and kayaks into the Peconic River.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent holds a sign that will be used on properties that have been preserved. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

What it doesn’t have is a weeping willow tree, and the committee is recommending that the town purchase and plant one there. They also recommend purchasing and installing a new bike rack to replace the existing rusted and damaged one, and that they purchase and plant shrubs to provide screening for neighboring properties.

The estimated cost is $7,500, according to the committee.

Another open space project, and a less visible one, is the former Kobylenski property on Middle Road, just east of Deep Hole Road in Calverton.

This 40-acre site, purchased in 2008, includes three rare kettle holes, which are rare geological formations or depressions that were formed by glacial movement wherein a large piece of ice broke away from the edge of a retreating glacier and partly became buried under sediment until it melts, leaving a depression filled with water, Ms. Gilbert said.

“There is no public access to it currently, and most people don’t know of its preservation status,” Ms. Gilbert said. The committee would like to create a small, two- or three-car parking area on the site as well as a kiosk explaining the importance of the kettle hole.

“We just have to make sure there are no restrictions on it,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said.

Deputy Town Attorney Anne Marie Prudenti said that if the town purchases property as open space and it is then discovered it is appropriate for public access as a park, the town can amend the preservation plan.

The committee is seeking a small parking area, a bike rack, a trash receptacle, a no-dumping sign and installation of an informative and historical sign at the beginning of the trail on the property, Ms. Gilbert said.

The estimated cost is $12,000, the committee said.

All three projects total $29,500.

The Community Preservation Fund, which is derived from a 2% land traffic tax, can be used for stewardship and public access, according to Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.

She said she would talk to the alternative transportation committee, of which she is liaison to, about the bike racks. The town also hopes to get grant money for these projects.

Asked if there was money available for the stewardship requests other than grants, Ms. Jens-Smith said the town is in the process of developing next year’s budget now. It is due on Oct. 1.

Top photo: The Town of Riverhead Sound Avenue Nature Preserve. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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