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Town official proposes senior recreation area

There’s a new trend in aging, Senior Services Director Laurie Fanelli told the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board at its June 13 meeting, an emphasis on physical fitness and exercise.

Ms. Fanelli has recognized this and asked the Advisory Board to consider a site for a senior recreation area for older residents.

Successful aging requires interaction with others, and for those who find themselves living alone, there can be a tendency to isolate from others. The Island offers many activities for seniors, but these are mostly planned events. When they’ve concluded, participants head home, too often alone.

A recreation area with activities appropriate for seniors would be a more informal place to gather, Ms. Fanelli said.

She pointed to Esther Hunt, who at 99, has remained engaged. In a recent discussion about affordable housing, Ms. Hunt held her own, bringing some salient points to the exchange. Just as it’s important for children to play and engage in physical activity, the same stimuli is important for seniors, Ms. Fanelli said. Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmstead recognized the need to provide appropriate spaces seniors could enjoy with activities appropriate for them, she said.

She quoted George Bernard Shaw: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

There doesn’t have to be a lot of equipment at such a site, Ms. Fanelli said, but it should include gardens and some activities for those with limited mobility. The area, or playground, she envisions would provide, among other activities, exercises to build upper body strength and walking paths. Pointing to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, Ms. Fanelli noted that many seniors can be found there playing chess with one another for mental stimulation.

Councilman Jim Colligan, who was monitoring the meeting, suggested Kim Reilly, chairwoman of the Recreation Committee, and FIT Manager Emily Kraus might be helpful in developing a site.

“I see it as a win-win situation,” Ms. Fanelli said.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Community Preservation Fund Chairman Gordon Gooding, and could also serve those with physical disabilities. “I think we should explore it.” Mr. Gooding suggested the West Neck Preserve, one of the newest CPF-acquired sites.

Ms. Fanelli said she would contact Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Eastern Long Island Hospital physicians who could prescribe use of such a site for their senior patients. That would provide an opportunity to get staffing for a recreation area.

There are logistical issues to be worked out, such as insurance to protect the Town from liability. But all agreed the initial meeting laid a firm groundwork for further exploration and discussion.