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Long Island Pine Barrens Society hopes to see additional properties in Riverhead Town preserved

The Long Island Pine Barrens Society has identified 15 properties it would like to see preserved, including several in Riverhead Town. 

The Central Pine Barrens includes land in the towns of Riverhead, Southampton and Brookhaven. More than 100,000 acres within the Central Pine Barrens, many of them contiguous, have been acquired by state, county and town governments under the 1993 Pine Barrens Protection Act,, officials said. 

But members of the Pine Barrens Society feel still more land needs to be protected.

“The Pine Barrens has not reached its full ecological, hydrological, or recreational potential,” the group wrote in its “Best of the Rest” campaign, which aims to preserve an additional 3,800 acres of land. “There are still thousands of acres of undeveloped properties in and adjacent to both the Core Preservation and Compatible Growth Areas, whose protection would safeguard our drinking water resources.”

John Turner and Nina Leonhardt, both board members of the Pine Barrens Society, discussed the nonprofit organization’s “Best of the Rest” Campaign at last Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session. 

Mr. Turner, a co-founder of the Society, which dedicated to preservation and improving water quality, said: “I started way back in the 1970s when we first became aware of a place called the Pine Barrens. We realized it was a remarkable part of Long Island that merited a great deal of focus and attention for the benefit of Long Island.”

He compared the Pine Barrens to Central Park in New York City.

“Just imagine New York City without Central Park,” he said. “It would be a poorer place.”

Among the properties the Society would like to see preserved in Riverhead Town is the Swan Lake Golf Course in Manorville. 

Mr. Turner said Suffolk County had made an offer to buy the golf course but it was rejected. The county’s plan was to let the course restore itself as a forest. He said he would like the county to have the first right of refusal if any future coeffort to sell the course is made. 

“The Swan Lake Golf Course in Manorville is a critically positioned parcel, within the Peconic River watershed,” the Society wrote in its “Best of the Rest” brochure. 

Also on the list are approximately 150 acres of federally owned grassland and forest along the eastern edge of Calverton National Cemetery property, north of EPCAL and within Riverhead Town.

“We’re hoping to make it a protected landscape,” Mr. Turner said, even though it is government-owned. 

“We have been very interested in the preservation of components of EPCAL for many decades,” said.

When the Pine Barrens Protection Act was adopted, some of land was put in the core reservation area and most of it was put in the compatible growth area and the land around EPCAL was given to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We understand the town’s desire for economic development,” Mr. Turner said. “We think we could achieve a wonderful balance by preserving hundreds of acres for open space purposes, and preserve some of the habitat and species at EPCAL.”

There are “many hundreds of acres of undisturbed, ecologically significant grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands” at the EPCAL property,” the Society wrote. “Given the size of [that] property, there is an opportunity to preserve significant portions of the property for conservation while simultaneously providing for desired development.” 

“We have every intention of preserving 1,000-plus acres that’s environmentally sensitive at EPCAL,” said Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar. “The town will put covenants and restrictions on the land to make sure this happens.”

“I’m glad you’re taking that approach,” Mr. Turner said. 

The Society’s list also includes two properties adjacent to state DEC property in Calverton that comprise 65 and 111 acres of undeveloped land.