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Esther Hunt cuts ribbon opening Mildred Flower Hird Preserve

Under a light rain that increased steadily last Friday afternoon, more than 50 people gathered on the side of a road in the Village of Dering Harbor. They were paying homage to a woman and her family who made it possible to preserve 30.8 acres of land that will forever remain as an open space.

Esther Hunt sat under a tent-like structure, cuddled in a warm blanket but eager to greet the many who arrived to watch her cut the ribbon opening the site to the public. It is currently the largest walkable public open space site, with 13.7 acres on the west side of Manhanset Road purchased from Ms. Hunt in 2001. It is adjacent to a pond that flows into Dering Harbor. Another 17.1 acres to the east purchased in 2005 represents what Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding called “pristine woodlands.”

The parcels were purchased with money from the Community Preservation Fund, the Suffolk County Division of Parks and Recreation and the Village of Dering Harbor.

“When we work together as one team, nothing else matters,” Mr. Gooding said, introducing the many partners who helped make the two preserves a reality.

They included former supervisor Jim Dougherty, who got the ball rolling back in 2001. He credited Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), whose legislation created the CPF. Money for the CPF comes from a 2% tax that buyers pay when purchasing East End properties and is used in turn to purchase open space for preservation and fund water protection programs.

Mr. Dougherty pointed out that had the property been sold to a private developer, with two-acre zoning in place, the site could well have seen construction of many houses.

Instead it is perpetually preserved for public enjoyment and serves to recharge the aquifer from rain and snow.

Former Dering Harbor mayor Tim Hogue, another partner with the town in bringing to fruition the deal to purchase the property, was also on hand. Mr. Hogue said that had Ms. Hunt not agreed to negotiate an agreement that would keep the property perpetually available as open space for hiking, she and her children might have benefitted mightily from a transaction with a private developer. It was their generosity that made the preserves possible, he said.

Suffolk County Parks Commissioner Phil Berdolt and principal environmental analyst Nick Gibbons also attended. Mr. Berdolt said the county has been happy to be a part of the acquisition and called it “a great piece of property.”

Vanessa Rojano, an aide to Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack), brought a proclamation honoring Ms. Hunt.

Others who deserve credit for bringing the purchase and subsequent stewardship program to the site include Gary Gerth, Gerry Siller and Art Williams, all of whom have occupied the supervisor’s office.

Credit also goes to the late Alan Shields, the artist who died in December 2005, and was credited as being a major force behind the acquisitions.

Town Board officials and Highway Supervisor and Public Works Commissioner Brian Sherman along with members of the CPF Advisory Board and Dering Harbor Village Deputy Mayor Karen Kelsey were also present. So, too, was Richie Surozenski, who had a long career with the village, treating it, in his words, as one large estate, handling snow plowing, grass cutting and many other maintenance jobs necessary to maintaining its character.