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Debate over Greenport mini-railroad continues as Rotary, residents argue over proposed location

Proponents and opponents of placing a mini railroad in Moore’s Woods presented arguments to the Greenport Board of Trustees at a meeting last Thursday. 

The Rotary Club of Greenport, some of whose members spoke last week, has been a key advocate for the railroad project, meant in part to honor Greenport resident Frank Field. 

Mr. Field, who passed away from complications of COVID-19 in February, operated the miniature train on his property for nearly 30 years. 

The Village of Greenport, with the Rotary Club and Railroad Museum of Long Island, purchased the mini locomotive, three passenger cars and about 1,500 feet of track from Mr. Field after the village approved its operation near Moore’s Lane in 2017. The Department of Environmental Conservation approved a wetlands permit for the project, which is currently planned for Moore’s Woods. 

Opposition to that location cropped up in June, with a petition presented by Greenport resident Randy Wade and signed by 65 people. Those arguing against the project have emphasized that they have no problem with the railroad itself; their hope is to reroute the tracks outside the woods. 

The group has also taken issue with plans for a 6-foot-high chain link fence to run along an existing footpath and the slated removal of two old-growth trees. 

“Nobody seems to understand that … the DEC moved the tracks to higher ground so that they’d be up on the oyster shell path, so that this fence is blocking the nature trail,” Ms. Wade said last Thursday, emphasizing the trail’s historic and educational value. “We love the railroad, we want the railroad. There are certainly places for the railroad, but the DEC has boxed us all into this corner by having either the nature trail or the railroad and it’s an unfortunate choice.” 

Margaret de Cruz, another Greenport resident who expressed opposition to the plan last Thursday, outlined a request to “look at the Moore’s Lane area from a larger perspective,” with a plan that would include the mini railroad, skatepark improvements, an enclosed dog park and public restrooms, while continuing to preserve Moore’s Woods. She also emphasized the ecological importance of the area. 

“Increased threats from ongoing global warming make the wetlands and forests more vulnerable to flooding and wind events, but more important for Greenport resilience,” she said, adding that the area is a significant coastal habitat. 

Other North Fork residents who favor the Moore’s Woods location argued at the meeting that it could foster more opportunities to educate children and community members about the environment. Multiple people spoke about how meaningful the railroad has been to them and their families and expressed a desire for their own children to experience it. 

Proponents of the railroad pointed out that the project has been in progress for four years in coordination with the DEC and emphasized that it has been funded by about $200,000 in community donations. 

Richard Israel of East Marion, a member of the Greenport Rotary, said the Moore’s Lane site was chosen because it was already a public park with the ability to handle crowds. 

“There’s more things that can be done there. The center of Greenport has become a very, very busy place,” he said. He outlined the process the Rotary has gone through with the DEC over the past four years, which worked with the organization and the village to place the train in its current location, where it would affect far fewer trees, he said.

“The train will stay as far left as it can, so to not to impede onto the wetlands, as designed by the DEC … and then we’ll take a look at where the fence will go within that radius so to protect the children and to leave enough space and the like,” Mr. Israel added. “If we had to, we could probably widen the road along the 200 feet or so that it’s impeding on the shell road.” 

He said public restrooms are included in the plans for the railroad and added that the Rotary is also concerned about the environment. 

“If we stop now, I don’t know what to do, guys. We’ve raised money, I wouldn’t even know who to give it back to,” Mr. Israel said. “We want to see this happen. If it’s going to take another four years, I can’t tell you I’ll be standing here or it will ever happen. It would kill the project.” 

Heather Walker, an East Marion resident and daughter of the late Joe Cherepowich — a Rotary member who initially spearheaded the project — spoke about how meaningful the train is to her, as something her family has enjoyed over the years. She said the Rotary, a group of about 30 or 40 people, has been working on the project for over five years, so “it does bother [her] when other community members say they haven’t heard about it, they didn’t know where it was going to be. It’s never been a secret.” 

“Greenport has changed a lot over the years, seen many generations. There’s a lot of restaurants, a lot of bars … it’s dwindling for things for families to do besides walks and beaches,” Ms. Walker said, pointing out that Mitchell Park carousel was likely controversial when it was first proposed as well. “[The railroad] is going to be a beautiful attraction. We’re only going to enhance Greenport.” 

Several people at the meeting, on both sides of the issue, commented that Moore’s Woods needs more care and attention in general.