Consultant outlines West Neck preservation plans

Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board members got an overview Monday morning of plans for the stewardship of the West Neck Preserve at the corner of Nostrand Parkway and West Neck Road from its consultant, Rusty Schmidt, a landscape ecologist with Nelson Pope Voorhis, LLC.

Following the explanation of what’s planned and why, members were in agreement that Mr. Schmidt was impressive and the right person to be hired for the job.

What Mr. Schmidt, who spoke via a virtual connection, wanted was to explain to the public what they will see over the course of his work and why each step will contribute to creating an attractive meadow of grasses and flowers.

He embraced both environmental and aesthetic concerns, demonstrating his understanding of the Island and the sensitivities of its residents.

Using photos he took of work at the Sisters of St. Joseph site in Brentwood, he explained what has been done and its effectiveness in creating an attractive meadow that will thrive.

This spring, Mr. Schmidt will be at the West Neck Preserve with a machine borrowed from Suffolk Soil & Water Conservation that will be used to plow a section of the site.  The area will be seeded with a mix of native grasses and flowers. Grasses will represent 80% of what is put down, with flowers accounting for the remaining 20%.

People tend to think meadows are flower beds when they are a mix of grass and flowers, Mr. Schmidt said. The initial growth may well look that way, but what’s important is how strong the plantings are based on their placement in healthy soil where their roots are able to reach deep to regenerate season after season.

He noted the Sisters of St. Joseph site has required a minimal amount of mowing, noting it has been mowed only once in an eight-year period.

A somewhat controversial method of achieving positive results is burning to destroy invasives, especially woody species that can hurt native plantings, Mr. Schmidt said. He’s trained to use burning as a tool and used it effectively in Minnesota where he worked several years ago. He has a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation permit for burning.

Flowers come back in more abundance after burning, he said, adding such burns are brief and effective. On Shelter Island, plans don’t currently call for burning. After turning over the soil and destroying invasives, the area could be covered with tarps to smother any return of invasives.

Alternatively, cardboard is likely to be used because it can be cut through as seeds can grow and poke through while they are taking root.

Mr. Schmidt said he wants the public to understand that the site won’t immediately blossom with grass and flowers and there will be times in cooler or cold weather when it will appear dreary, but will be attractive through spring and summer.