This spring, Jeremy Samuelson begins a new job on Shelter Island — and he couldn’t be more excited.
Mr. Samuelson has been named Mashomack Preserve director by The Nature Conservancy. He replaces Mike Laspia who retired last fall after 37 years in the position, along with his wife Susan, who worked as the preserve’s operations manager.
The new job comes with certain perks, including a 1920s craftsman cottage set deep in the woods of Mashomack where Mr. Samuelson will soon move with his wife, Carissa Katz, managing editor of the East Hampton Star, daughter Jade, 8, and son Jasper, 6. While Mr. Samuelson expects to start work on the Island in April, his wife and children will finish out the school year in East Hampton before joining him here where Jade and Jasper will be enrolled in the Shelter Island School next fall.
While some people might balk at the idea of accepting a job that requires relocating your entire family to an isolated cottage surrounded by a 2,039-acre preserve, for Mr. Samuelson, it’s a dream come true.
“Back when I worked for Group for the East End, I went to a meeting at Mashomack and met Mike and thought, ‘That guy has the coolest job in the world,’” Mr. Samuelson said.
When he learned that Mr. Laspia was retiring, Mr. Samuelson hoped he would have an opportunity to apply for the job and that he might be fortunate enough to get it.
He did, and he was.
“I think this is such a great opportunity. I can’t see it any other way,” Mr. Samuelson said in a recent interview with the Reporter. When asked how his wife feels about the impending move, he said, “She knows who she married.”
Anyone who knows Mr. Samuelson understands his great passion for and commitment to the environment. He comes to this job with a résumé full of related experience — not only from his time at Group for the East End, where he worked as an environmental advocate and educator, but also in his most recent position as executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk (CCOM).
CCOM is a nonprofit focusing on environmental issues facing Montauk. A strong partner to The Nature Conservancy, the group advocates for coastal conservation, sustainable development and water quality — all issues Mr. Samuelson feels will be important during his tenure at Mashomack.
“There’s an amazing team in place at Mashomack and we’ll continue to operate programming and do research,” he said. “The position of the director is to work with the team to make sure they continue and grow the preserve as an educational resource and a research opportunity.”
But Mr. Samuelson adds that, as director, he’ll also work within the context of The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, ensuring Mashomack — which includes forest systems, wetland complexes of fresh, salt and tidal waters, and 12 miles of shoreline — is serving as a climate research and water quality facility to help paint the bigger picture of what’s happening to the coastal environment throughout the region.
“We depend on nature and nature depends on us. We have to live and work on Shelter Island,” he said. “We have real drinking water quality concerns on Long Island. If we want to continue thriving here we have to redouble our efforts in terms of protecting our environment.”
To that end, one of Mr. Samuelson’s first priorities will be to examine the research Mashomack is currently conducting and review the data sets on hand to determine if the focus should be shifted for the future.
“Impacts like sea-level rise, salt marsh migration, the density of migrating birds — what can the preserve tell us about the world we’re living in?” he asked. “Are we on the right path or do we need to change our methods?”
Fortunately, Mr. Samuelson is not alone in his quest to answer these questions. Experience has taught him that people, by nature, are fundamentally curious and if approached as partners, those who live in the community will respond by stepping up to the plate and working together to help solve a problem. That’s certainly what he saw happen during his time with CCOM.
“Serving as a resource, when things were going right or wrong in the environment, people came to us to ask what we could share with them,” he said of his work in Montauk. “It’s a tremendous responsibility and to have that relationship and trust takes time.”
“The thing I’m most proud of is building the trust in Montauk so people see us as a resource,” he said, adding that one the most notable achievements implemented there was a citizen scientists water testing program.
Mr. Samuelson explained that while Suffolk County regularly tests waters across the East End for bacteria and other pathogens, CCOM’s citizen scientists do so much more frequently, providing the public with constant updates about water quality in Montauk.
“We test for enterococcus. The reason we chose that bacteria to measure is it correlates to federal bathing beach standards,” explained Mr. Samuelson. “It’s the closest anyone can come to a test for answering the question, ‘Is it safe to take my family swimming?’”
“We make the information available and user friendly. It’s a place to start a conversation. If you do that, people will begin to understand the issues more and get involved,” added Mr. Samuelson, who believes a citizen scientists program could also work well at Mashomack.
It’s easy to see Mr. Samuelson’s enthusiasm for science and he feels one of the opportunities The Nature Conservancy has been clear about is ensuring that Mashomack is part of the research and policy work happening across Long Island.
“Mashomack provides an ideal opportunity to ask how the world is changing around us. The approach for The Nature Conservancy is to use the research opportunities as a way to really think in a more regional scale about what’s happening,” he said. “The Nature Conservancy has worked very had to be a leader to bring tools for planning and adaption to coastal communities.
“I think Mashomack is serving as a laboratory where we can think about the changes we need to make going forward.”
While the future story of the Island is still being written, Mr. Samuelson’s own future is set and he’s fairly confident that he and his family will be happy with his new job at Mashomack for quite some time to come.
“Mike loved this job so much he stayed for 37 years,” he said with a grin.