The New York State Parks Department hosted an environmental review hearing for a proposed $35 million project to rejuvenate Hempstead Lake State Park last week at Hempstead Town Hall, but residents and businesses expressed concerns.
The meeting, which was attended by roughly 30 people, discussed restoring the 521-acre park’s northwest and northeast ponds and creating new areas to treat storm water runoff and collect pollutants. Other renovations included improvements to Hempstead Lake’s dam and construction of an 8,000 square foot Environmental Education and Resiliency Center that would monitor the lake’s water levels and act as an educational and emergency response facility for the community.
To accomplish the work, the loss of 2.4 acres of trees is expected, some of which would be removed to widen the park’s trails. The South Shore Audubon Society expressed concern that the loss of the trees would result in fewer bird habitats. They also showed frustration from a lack of communication with those leading the project. “We want a complete environmental impact statement,” said Jim Brown, a conservation coach and past president of the South Shore Audubon Society. “We don’t really know everything about the habitat and wildlife that’s in the park and how it should be managed. It just seems like they’re rushing this through.”
Alex Jacobson, owner and founder of the New York Equestrian Center, one of the largest permit holders at Hempstead Lake State Park, said the government’s plans would take away over a mile of bridle paths that have been used for horse back riding exclusively for decades. “They’re turning some of the bridle paths into multi-purpose trails,” said Jacobson, who said the government should consider the area’s historical equestrian past. West Hempstead has been home to horseback riding schools for over a century. ”We’re looking to preserve the horse history in this town.”
Jacobson said that a mile’s worth of bridle path on the park’s north side, and a third of the path on the south would be converted to multi-purpose trails, which does not work for horses. “They’re calling it a proposed hiking, cycling and bridle path, but you can’t have cycling and bridle on the same path,” said Jacobson. “It will spook the horses.”
Jacobson said the plans also include opening another entrance to the park, near Hempstead High School, which prompts security concerns.
Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery will accept public comments about the project until July 17 by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to them at 25 Beaver Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10004.
Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who attended the meeting, commented, “Hempstead Lake State Park is a jewel of our community that we must preserve for future generations. Any project of this magnitude must be scrutinized. Ultimately, we need to protect our communities from flooding, protect the environment and capitalize on the opportunity to build a first-class recreational park.”
The effort is part of the state’s $125 million “Living with the Bay” initiative which aims to make South Shore communities along Mill River — which runs from Hempstead Lake south to Hewlett Bay — more resistant to future storms. Living with the Bay is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Citizens Advisory Committee meeting to discuss proposed renovations to the park will be held on July 25 from 5:30 to 9:30 at Knights of Columbus, 2985 Kenneth Place in Oceanside.