Riverhead Town will soon have its own nature preserve.
About 15 acres along Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow that were purchased as open space in 2006 are being turned into a public preserve, complete with hiking trails, kiosks, some gravel parking spaces and other amenities, according to Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten.
On the north side of Sound Avenue, just east of Terry Farm Road, the property is surrounded on three sides by the Nassau County 4H Camp.
The town acquired two separate contiguous lots in 2006.
One was a vacant 9.3-acre lot fronting Sound Avenue, owned by Carl Carter and Karen Terry Carter, for which the town paid $1.3 million.
The other, just north of that, was a vacant 5.9-acre parcel owned by Alison Adams Larson, which the town purchased for $800,000.
The Town Board resolutions approving those purchases did not state the town’s intention for the land, as required by state law, said deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti. So the town amended the acquisition in 2010 to state a purpose for the properties, she added.
Riverhead’s open space committee, overseeing the development of the nature preserve, recommended the lots be improved for passive recreation uses and called for mowed pathways for hiking, landscaping conducive to birds and butterflies, kiosk stations along the pathways to provide information about the wildlife, benches, a bike rack and a gravel parking lot to accommodate six cars, including one handicapped parking space.
The town budgeted up to $75,000 for improving the preserve, that money coming from Community Development Fund receipts, which come from a voter-approved 2 percent tax on real estate transfers.
“It’s going to be beautiful,” said Mr. Wooten, the Town Board liaison to the open space committee. “The open space committee members have really poured their heart and soul into this.”
The town’s building and grounds and highway departments have been working on the land, and the preserve should be ready to open soon, he said.
“Once they finish this, the committee will turn its attention to [developing] the Weeping Willow Motel,” Mr. Wooten said.
The motel, located along the Peconic River on West Main Street, was acquired by the town recently and the committee is considering using it as a launch point for kayaks and canoes, Mr. Wooten said.
“We have all this open space, and we’d like to see a lot of it used for passive recreation,” he said.
The nature preserve does not extend as far north as the bluff overlooking Long Island Sound, but it is just south of a hummingbird sanctuary that Baiting Hollow resident Paul Adams opens to the public at selected times every August. 4H land separates the hummingbird sanctuary from the preserve.
“I’m delighted that Riverhead Town is at long last about to open its own nature preserve,” Mr. Adams said by email. “However, I hope they carefully study the way such preserves have been implemented in neighboring towns and, in particular, that the responsible officials go out to Stony Brook and look at the hugely successful, and beautiful, Avalon Preserve there.”
Mr. Adams said the trail at the Stony Brook preserve attracts hundreds of hikers, joggers, birdwatchers and “just old-fashioned strollers.”
He believes Riverhead Town need only mow a few paths and a parking area and that the work that’s already been done there is slightly overdone.
“Ideally, the fields themselves should be roughly mown once a year, to reduce invasive shrubs and trees which are already taking over,” Mr. Adams said. “A combination of native woodland and open fields is ideal for most animals. Finally, the new preserve should be overseen by an independent committee with experience in and commitment to nature preservation, or qualified biologists/naturalists.”