From Tick-Laden Brambles to a Showcase Destination

The view of downtown Riverhead from the land slated to become a park along the south side of the Peconic River.
The view of downtown Riverhead from the land slated to become a park along the south side of the Peconic River.

Southampton Town Makes Plans for Riverside Park

Though the Southampton hamlet of Riverside takes its name from its location alongside the south bank of the Peconic River, you wouldn’t know you were anywhere near the water if you simply drove down Flanders Road en route to the Riverside traffic circle, bound for a shopping trip to Route 58 or further west.

Southampton Town and the Flanders, Riverside & Northampton Community Association (FRNCA) are planning to change that, with the development of a 14-acre Riverside Maritime Trail Park, on land between Flanders Road and the river purchased by the county from Dede Gotthelf for preservation in 2011.

Ms. Gotthelf’s Catcove Corp. had initially proposed to build a 140-room hotel and conference center on 25 acres alongside the river back in 2000, but after much legal wrangling she ended up selling a portion of the land for preservation.

The parkland, now overgrown with invasive weeds and occasional patches of illegial dumping can be accessed from Flanders Road across from Old Quogue Road. It meanders alongside the river from just east of the Riverside McDonalds, passing by three coves and moving through phases of successional and mature woodlands, an undulating shoreline that is a haven for wildlife.

Downtown Riverhead as seen from one of the three coves in the Riverside park property
Downtown Riverhead as seen from one of the three coves in the Riverside park property

Landscape architect Steve Nieroda of Araiys Design gave an overview of the plans for the park at FRNCA’s Sept. 10 meeting.

FRNCA had been awarded a $50,000 Environmental Justice grant from the New York State Department of  Environmental Conservation to hire Mr. Nieroda and implement wetland restoration projects along the river.

“The Peconic Estuary is our shared inheritance. It’s very special, and we want to share it in this park,” Mr. Nieroda told the packed room full of community members who had come to give their input. The park will continue to be owned by the county but will be operated and maintained by Southampton Town.

Mr. Nieroda, who has spent time walking the property with his son, said it’s “very beautiful. We’re pretty excited at some of the things we’ve discovered,” including a grove of gray birch trees and eastern box turtles.

A grove of birch trees, choked in briars, near the banks of the river
A grove of birch trees, choked in briars, near the banks of the river

His initial plans call for creating public access and opening up a view to the river across from Old Quogue Road, with a low-impact permeable parking area there. A 1.6-mile trail running west-east alongside the river is also part of the early design plans.

The plan also calls for removal of invasive common reeds, known as phragmites, and invasive Japanese knotweed, which outcompete native species in disturbed waterside areas throughout the East End.

Beyond these basic plans, Mr. Nieroda suggested numerous ideas for passive recreation facilities that could be created in the park — from fishing piers to overlooks and boardwalks, a fenced dog park to community exercise areas, kayak launches to bike paths, a sculpture garden and educational signage for children. He then handed out booklets with photographs of these design ideas, along with star-shaped stickers, and asked members of the community to place the stickers next to their favorite designs.

Dumping and campsites are an ongoing issue on the property.
Dumping and campsites are an ongoing issue on the property.

You don’t have to go far to see some examples of what Southampton envisions could be done with the Riverside park. The eight-acre Avalon Park and Preserve on Stony Brook Harbor is a very good example of what can be done in a passive park, said Mr. Nieroda.

At that privately owned park, public events include yoga and meditation classes, stargazing and access to sculpture gardens, set alongside the backdrop of the wetlands surrounding Stony Brook Harbor.

Back at the meeting in the community center, attendees asked Mr. Nieroda to work on ensuring the property has adequate security and lighting, and said the designers would also need to address ticks on the property.

Former FRNCA President Vince Taldone asked Mr. Nieroda to not rule out a pedestrian bridge one day connecting the park to downtown Riverhead. FRNCA had explored the idea of a bridge in the past, but had balked at its $4 million price tag.

An existing path winds through a mature oak forest.
An existing path winds through a mature oak forest.

The design group will return to the Riverside community, bringing a rough draft of community-supported ideas that might be included in the final design to the Crohan Community Center, at 655 Flanders Road, on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. They will be soliciting more community input at that time.

Designers then expect to present their plan to the Southampton Town Board at a special town board work session on Thursday, Nov. 15 at 6 p.m., which will also be held at the Crohan Community Center.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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