Seven years after it was severely damaged in Hurricane Sandy, design plans for the revitalization of the Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area are underway.
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.
A $1.7 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will fund a state-of-the-art, 2,600-foot educational center at the entrance of the marsh preserve, which will combine the center’s existing education and administration buildings, which were damaged in Hurricane Irene and ravaged in Sandy. It will break ground in the spring of 2020.
“The Oceanside Marine Nature Study has been a tremendous educational resource for residents and visitors alike for almost 50 years,” Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said in a statement while announcing the design plans. “This is a vital resource that educates the public about the importance of our marine environment and the many benefits it provides to residents living on the South Shore of Long Island.”
Design plans for the revamped MSNA include handicap-accessible entrances and ramps; energy efficient renewable solar and geothermal energy power to the building; fish tank displays with marine life; multiple classrooms; and an observation deck overlooking a 52-acre salt marsh and tidal creeks preserve. The town repaired the center, on Slice Drive in Oceanside, after Sandy, but upgrades are needed to make it flood resilient and protect its surroundings.
During Sandy, the stone educational center was badly damaged, and wooden boardwalks were destroyed and tossed into the marsh. FEMA recommended that the town demolish and rebuild the facility, and town officials were waiting on funds in the years since the storm, which have now arrived.
“Our marine environment is interwoven into almost every aspect of our lives here on the South Shore without most even realizing,” Gillen said. “It’s important to open up and expand educational opportunities for the next generation so that they understand the very real health and quality-of-life benefits that clean water and open land provides to the public.”
According to a town release, the center has seen an increase in visitors in the wake of Sandy, including an average of about 15,000 visitors and 180 classes each year. Last year, about 16,500 people came to the site, which is the same number that visited the center through September of this year. The area is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including more than 250 bird species, and is a popular destination for conservationists and bird watchers.
South Shore Audubon Society co-Chairman Jim Brown said the group was excited about the design phase being completed.
“The Marine Nature Study Area is an environmental jewel in the Town Of Hempstead and an important habitat for birds and other wildlife,” he said. “Replacing the facilities damaged by Hurricane Sandy will further enable the preserve’s staff to realize its important research, educational and outreach goals, as well as provide something all town residents and visitors will surely welcome.”
Now that the design phase is completed, the town will soon solicit bids for construction, which should take eight months to complete.