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‘A lake in the middle of nowhere'

200-acre preserve in East Meadow serves as a bird sanctuary, storm basin

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Close your eyes and imagine walking on a trail in a 200-acre preserve, encircling an expansive lake. Nature surrounds you. Trees, bushes and flowers greet you at every step. You spot the occasional snake, rabbit or turtle, and Canada geese float placidly on the lake as fish swim beneath them.

Are you imagining the Catskills? A state park in the Hudson Highlands?

What if you were told that this very scene could be observed right here, in East Meadow? It can.

Adjacent to Edward J. Speno Memorial Park, alongside East Meadow Avenue, is a Nassau County storm recharge basin that, 20 years ago, was transformed into a bird sanctuary, the result of a partnership between the county and the Coalition of East Meadow Community Organizations.

On Aug. 25, CEMCO president Joseph Parisi took this reporter on a tour of the preserve. One moment, we were on the streets of East Meadow, at the preserve’s gated entrance on Tremont Place. The next, we were immersed in wildlife. Though you could still see the tops of neighboring homes above the perimeter’s fence, it felt like we had escaped any semblance of suburbia. “You’re standing here. There’s homes all around us,” Parisi said to me. “But you’d never think you’re in East Meadow.”

‘Forever wild’

There’s good reason why so few are aware of the sanctuary’s existence: the county-owned land is off-limits to trespassers. Only Nassau County and CEMCO have keys to the entrance.

The land still serves as a storm basin. There are three large drains around the lake, which is as deep as 80 feet, said Parisi. Storm runoff is jettisoned into the water, which slowly seeps down into Long Island’s aquifers.

But the land is for wildlife, he explained, not people. CEMCO, with the assistance of other local community groups and the county’s Department of Public Works, arranges two cleanups per year to maintain it. Otherwise its inhabitants belong to the animal kingdom.

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