$1.4M earmarked for Oceanside nature preserve


Years after incurring significant damage from hurricanes Sandy and Irene, Long Island’s Marine Nature Study Area in Oceanside is finally getting much-needed upgrades to aid its environmental education services.

Oceanside’s MNSA is a 52-acre nature preserve devoted to environmental education and natural history. It opened in 1970 and has since made available a vast ecosystem of marine, insect and plant life, as well as hundreds of species of birds for residents across the South Shore and beyond to observe.

Many summer camps and schools use the space — operated by the Town of Hempstead’s Department of Conservation and Waterways. Children visit the area’s education building, which was left barely standing after Sandy hit in 2012. Since then, the MNSA revitalized the preserve with a new boardwalk, restored display areas, fly boxes, fencing and trails, but the temporary classroom remained largely untouched.

“We’ve been just hanging out waiting for things to happen,” said Michael Farina, a biologist and teacher at the MNSA. The preserve has been conducting lessons for kids who visit — from as far as the North Shore to Suffolk County — in the temporary classroom. In the coming years, both the education and administration building will be removed and rebuilt into a single structure housing the two, according to Town Spokesman Michael Fricchione. Currently, the buildings sit below Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood plain elevation standards, he said, but now FEMA is set to provide a $1.4 million grant to reconstruct the facilities.

“I support it wholeheartedly,” said Ned Black, who taught biology, earth science and marine science in Oceanside schools for 50 years. He said salt marshes like the MNSA are important as they produce an enormous amount of organic matter, and the education building — which he referred to as an interpretive center — helps visitors understand that. “It gives people, not just children, but people in general a sense of what the South Shore of Long Island, the natural part, was like before it was developed.”

Black noted that many residents are unaware of the nature preserve, and hopes these improvements will change that. “It’s a gem for Long Island, and of Oceanside.”

Preliminary plans call for a handicap-accessible, energy-efficient education facility, partly reliant on alternative energy through solar panels and geothermal cylinders. There will be several fish tank displays, and multiple standalone classrooms for programs and instructions, as well as flat-screen TVs and other technologies to give visitors an interactive, advanced learning experience.

“It will increase the ability for us to educate students and the general public on salt marsh ecology and the importance of wetlands, especially around coastal communities,” Farina noted. While permits for planning were approved in a recent town board meeting, he said, the blueprints are still being processed, and, according to Fricchione are expected for completion by the end of summer.

Farina said the plans call for the building to be constructed using natural materials, such as wood and recycled materials that provide high durability. The size of the education building will be approximately 2,600 square feet. Bidding for construction will start this fall once the plans are approved.

“To be able to recreate a permanent classroom to be used for the future is extremely important,” Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito said. He said the effort to have the facility reconstructed took at least two years of overcoming various funding and regulatory hurdles. He feels the MNSA is often “taken for granted,” and reminisced about his days on the preserve as a young student. “It serves as one of few places where people, children especially, can go and learn about nature first-hand,” D’Esposito added.