Is New York State building a rest stop on Sound Avenue?
That was Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter’s first impression when he heard last week that the visitors center under construction at Hallock State Park would have public bathrooms, vending machines and a “Taste NY” shop.
“Isn’t that what they built on the expressway?” Walter asked.
The 3,800-square-foot visitors center, which will be open to the public, will have bathrooms accessible from the exterior as well as bathrooms accessible from inside the building. There will also be vending machines, water fountains, a meeting room, an environmental education center and, possibly a Taste New York retail shop. There will be an adjoining parking area to accommodate 27 vehicles.
The visitors center should be open by late May or June, according to New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation public information officer Randy Simons. “Parks is also working on a trails plan for the facility and a trail will be available for use when the park opens,” Simons said.
The 225-acre park preserve, located in the northeast corner of Riverhead Town, bordering Southold, was part of a 533-acre site bought by New York State from KeySpan Energy in 2002 for $16 million. The largest privately owned property on the Long Island Sound was once slated for the construction of a nuclear power plant by the Long Island Lighting Co. About 300 of the acquired acres remained in agricultural production, divided into farm parcels and sold to local farmers. Another 20 acres was deeded by the state to Hallockville Museum Farm. And the remaining more than 200 acres was dedicated as parkland.
The plan for the park property has been amended since first adopted in 2010. The original plan was to build an environmental education center on the northern portion of the site, along with a park manager’s residence and a maintenance building. The area of the property fronting Sound Avenue was not to have any building, just some directional signs and a turn-around area.
In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $3 million in funding to construct a visitors center at the park and in 2015, the state parks agency prepared an amended master plan that reconfigured the site plan for the park, which stretches from Sound Avenue to the L.I. Sound and includes a mile of beach. The park manager’s residence and maintenance building were eliminated and an environmental education center and park office, also originally planned for the northern portion of the site were incorporated into the new visitors center building to be constructed on a 1.4-acre portion of the property fronting Sound Avenue.
Access to the main park area will be via a 20-foot-wide compacted gravel road extending from the visitors center approximately 2,800 feet north, connecting to a secondary parking lot that will provide parking for 20 vehicles and four horse trailers; it will also provide turnaround space for large buses.
Inclusion of a Taste NY shop is not yet finalized, the parks department spokesman said. However, if the shop is sited there, it will be retail only and will not include food service, Simons said said.
Walter said he remains concerned about traffic impacts of the facility. He had sought to have the state construct or fund the construction of turning lanes to serve the site, but the request was rebuffed, he said. At the time, he did not realize there would be a public comfort station just off the roadway, Walter said. This heightens his concern about traffic impacts, he said.
“These will be the only public restrooms on Sound Avenue,” he said. “I’m not sure they know what they’re in for, especially during pumpkin season.”
Walter had a tour of the site Monday with the state agency’s regional director, former Suffolk County legislator Wayne Horsely.
“I told him I would stop calling it a rest stop,” Walter said after the tour.
The state parks department was planning to convene a meeting today at the Riverhead library with local organizations that will make use of the environmental education center’s interpretive display area, said Sue Wuehler, who is the manager of Orient State Park and will take on responsibility of managing Hallock State Park. The meeting was postponed due to yesterday’s blizzard.
Wuehler said state officials wanted to discuss the idea of a Taste NY shop with local groups. The state agency invited town officials as well as organizations such as the Suffolk County Historical Society, the Audubon Society Hallockville Museum Farm and other groups that would make use of the display area.
“We wanted to ask if anyone is interested in it. We want input from the community. Would it help the farm stands in the winter?
“The idea is if you come into the visitors center, you can learn about Hallock, learn about North Fork history, maritime and military history, and maybe purchase something from the area to take home,” Wuehler said.
“It looks beautiful,” Walter said Monday afternoon following the tour. “It will be wonderful to have the public access to the Sound. I think some people will love it and some will be taken back by the building itself.”