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Editorial: North Fork Audubon’s extraordinary legacy

Over the years many local groups across the North Fork have done extraordinary work improving the environment, quality of life and wellbeing of this narrow and fertile peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. 

One of the genuine standouts is the North Fork chapter of the Audubon Society, which has been a leader in wide-ranging efforts across a broad spectrum of areas critical to the preservation of a unique area surrounded by saltwater.

The chapter’s many projects — from preserving bird habitats and protecting endangered species to community education efforts — is a mile long and is a masterclass on how a committed group of people can truly make the place we call home far better.

On a recent cold morning we met four of the chapter’s board members, Theresa Dilworth, Peggy Lauber, Robin Simmen and Debbie O’Kane, at Roy Latham Nature Center, the group’s fascinating headquarters at the entrance to Inlet Pond County Park in Greenport. 

The center — a farmhouse built in the 1850s — is named after Roy Latham, an Orient farmer-scientist-naturalist who is one of the giant figures in the effort to catalogue, save and document the region’s natural history. He also found and saved thousands of artifacts left by the Algonquian-speaking Natives who lived here for thousands of years before English colonists displaced them and claimed their land as their own. 

The four members we met exemplify the goals of the society. Outside the center, which sits at the head of the 55-acre park, the group has planted a rain garden filled with native plants. Adjacent to the center they have cleared invasive privet with the goal of creating an area planted with native grasses.

They have created bird-friendly wildlife habitats at the center while prioritizing water conservation and this year will work on a “Backyard Berries for Birds” garden. The trails throughout the park that lead down to a stunning Long Island Sound beach are being cleared of invasive plants and vines that choke out native species.

We asked the members to send us a list of the chapter’s many projects, past and present, across the North Fork. The list is very impressive and there isn’t enough room here to print them all. One example is training volunteers to act as stewards to monitor beaches during hatching season, documenting shorebird numbers, nests and hatchlings of piping plover and least tern.

The group also helps identify what it calls “keystone” trees within the park. These are trees that have formed symbiotic relationships with wildlife, creating a sustainable habitat not damaged by invasive species.

Among the keystone trees in the park: oak, cherry, grey birch, black birch and yellow birch, along with butternut, walnut, black locust, sassafras, hawthorn and eastern red cedar.

This is just a small sample of the group’s many worthwhile efforts. To reach out to the group and perhaps offer to volunteer, go to northforkaudubon.org.