Caring for Suffolk County’s over 63,000 acers of parkland is a formidable task, but parks officials may soon be getting some help following the unanimous legislative approval this week of a plan to create a parks stewardship pilot program. To be rolled out in ten unstaffed County parks, the bill sponsored by Legislator Kara Hahn will enlist the assistance of individual volunteers and groups to assist with trash pickup, trail maintenance and monitoring of its selected park. Work will be coordinated and overseen by the County’s parks department and the “Park Stewards” will be required to submit reports on the number of times participants have walked the park’s trails, amount of litter collected from the grounds and any vandalism or illegal activity discovered.
“Residents of Suffolk County love their parks,” said Legislator Hahn who is Chairwoman of the Legislature’s Parks and Recreation Committee. “This program will allow our residents to translate that affection into real, hands-on action for the protection and improvement of these public treasures.”
The parks stewardship pilot will run for one year to determine the program’s feasibility for possible expanded use within the County. A decision on the potential implementing of a continuing stewardship program will be made by the Parks Department once the one year trial is complete. The idea to establish a stewardship program was presented to Legislator Hahn by East Setauket Boy Scout Jake Butkevich, who was interested in volunteering at Forsythe Meadow County Park in Stony Brook, and former Hahn intern Xicheng Zhou who researched the plan.
The bill now goes to County Executive Steve Bellone for his signature within the next 15 days.
According to Philip Berdolt Commissioner of Suffolk County Parks and Recreation, “The Park Stewardship Program will engage community members in the conservation of parklands throughout Suffolk County. By becoming a steward of Suffolk County Parks’ green spaces, you will help ensure that our county’s natural resources are cared for and kept safe for future generations.”
In recent years the challenge of protecting Long Island’s parks has come to the forefront following discoveries of illegal dumping and vandalism in several locations including the Town of Islip’s Roberto Clemente Park and Suffolk’s West Hills County Park. And while the toxic debris dumped has been removed, and these parks reopened, officials continue to implement new programs intended to protect Suffolk County’s parkland from being “dumped on” again. In 2017, Suffolk approved increased penalties for dumping on County owned public lands and established a “Parks Watch” program similar to the highly effective Community Watch program, two efforts spearheaded by Legislator Hahn.
“The power to keeps our parks beautiful is within all of our hands,” concluded Legislator Hahn. “Being a parks steward means being a partner in the protection and ultimately the sustainability of these majestic places.”