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Residents petition against railroad location in Moores woods

Some residents and environmentalists are pushing back against plans for a miniature railroad in Greenport’s Moore’s Woods, weeks after the state Department of Environmental Conservation approved a key permit for the project.

At a Village Board meeting last Thursday, resident Randy Wade submitted a petition signed by 65 people who say they aren’t trying to derail the project, but would rather reroute it outside of the woods.

“We hope the train’s impact on the experience as a nature trail can be minimized,” Ms. Wade said.

Specifically, the group has taken issue with plans to fence off the railroad with a six-foot-high chain link fence that would run alongside an existing footpath. Ms. Wade said the fence and service road for the project would leave hikers just three feet to the right of it to walk. “People will need to step onto fragile forest plantings to pass each other,” she said.

The group is also asking the track to be rerouted around two old-growth trees slated to be cut down under the current plan.

“We love the railroad and we love Moore’s Woods. Let’s work together to enjoy them,” Ms. Wade said.

Two other residents spoke during last Thursday’s meeting to urge the board to rethink the train’s location.

Peggy Lauber, president of the North Fork Audubon Society, said the 200-acre area is home to fertile wetlands and rare plants, including the crane fly orchid.

“One imagines children riding through the forest, connected to nature, enveloped by the lovely woods but the reality is much different,” Ms. Lauber said. “Children would instead be treated to views of a chain link fence, completely disconnected from the woods.”

She referred to Moore’s Woods as an “irreplaceable gem” that deserves to be protected.

For decades, Greenport resident Frank Field operated the miniature railroad on his property. The Greenport Rotary Club has since taken up an effort to resurrect the project, spearheaded by the late Joe Cherepowich, who many have credited as the driving force behind the project.

The Rotary purchased the miniature train and tracks and an ongoing fundraising effort has raised approximately $150,000 to date. Additional fundraising will help cover the costs to install a “train station” that would also bring public restrooms to the site, which is located near the existing skate park and baseball diamond.

Last Thursday’s meeting marked the second time in as many months that community members have spoken out against the Moore’s Woods location.

Greenport Rotary officials have said that they’re sensitive to the environmental concerns and would be open to adding educational components to the attraction that could teach riders about the woods. 

Nearly two dozen Rotarians attended a May 20 work session to show support for the project, including Richard Israel, who chairs the Rotary’s train committee.

Mr. Israel emphasized in an interview Friday that the group has spent four years working with the DEC on the project. “We addressed the [environmental] concerns,” he said. 

It doesn’t appear likely that the village will consider an alternative location.

“We’re at the last stage of it,” Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said Friday morning.

He said the DEC’s review of the project was extensive, spanning several years and prompting the project to have been redesigned four times to address a slew of environmental concerns, including impacts on fragile wetland areas.

He said the fence is necessary to keep the train safe and secure and to deter vandalism in lieu of motion lights, which would have a greater adverse impact on the woods.

Mr. Hubbard says he believes the new train will be an asset to the woods, inviting more families to explore the network of trails that span the property.

He also pointed out that a petition submitted to the DEC in 2019 garnered over 2,600 signatures in a month’s time. “That kind of shows you where the community support is,” Mr. Hubbard said.

Heather Walker, who is Joe Cherepowich’s daughter, said Friday that she thinks the train will be a win-win for the area and questioned why signatories of the petition are just now taking issue with the project, which has been in the works for more than four years.

“It’s going to be a wonderful thing for people of all ages,’’ she said,” adding that it’s important to see her father’s dream realized.

“I have to carry this out. It’s a legacy for him,” Ms. Walker said.