Nature center planned for historic lodge
It has been three years in the making for some and even longer for others.
A few months back, Center for Environmental Education and Discovery co-founders Rebecca Muellers and wildlife biologist Eric Powers signed a 10-year agreement authorizing them to operate and manage the over-7,300-square-foot house that sits on two acres of grass and woodland at 287 South Country Road in Brookhaven hamlet, just next door to Isabella Rossellini’s farm.
Their plan is to create a nature center offering environmental education programs and lodging. An adjacent 7.6-acre parcel of land co-owned by the town and Suffolk County will also be utilized for programming.
In celebration of the license agreement, on June 1 the Town of Brookhaven officially passed the keys to the historic Washington Lodge to CEED, formed by the nonprofit Art and Nature Group.
“We are hugely in support of the center. This has been a long time coming,” said Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, who attended the ceremony and has been working with CEED on the agreement for three years. “This will revolutionize what we do for the environment and something we need to pass on to the next generation.”
Legis. Kate Browning’s (WF-Shirley) legislative aide Josh Slaughter told the crowd of how this is a story that goes back nine years, when the Post Morrow Foundation and Browning’s office fought to preserve the building against redevelopment.
“We always had a vision to make this building an asset to the community,” he said. “Now we plan to install an alternative wastewater system and our goal is to see this facility up and running soon.”
Powers and Muellers have that same goal. Powers said it has been a dream of his and Muellers to create a nature center that can run programs without restriction.
“I was recently asked to do a live animal show, but with no live animals. Our education system is so filled with fear about the outdoors, which stems from lack of education and a real connection with the outdoors. That’s where we come in,” he said.
The Art and Nature Group now running as CEED plans to raise close to $1 million in funding to renovate the lodge in phases. Eventually, Muellers said, the vision is to open the house to lodging, live animals such as reptiles, amphibians and small mammals and an on-site caretaker.
According to Muellers, Phase 1 includes about half of the first floor including the entry, two large assembly rooms, a classroom, two bathrooms and a storage space. It also includes foundation work so that the facility can begin programming quickly. Phase 2 goes on to renovate a community room, bathroom, hallway, two storage spaces and the kitchen on the first floor, as well as the library, office and three bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, and storage space on the third. The third phase will include the second-floor five bedrooms and a bathroom, as well as five more bedrooms and a bathroom on the third floor.
Proposed on-site activities include nature walks, astronomy and meteor showers, storytelling by a campfire, birding, nature interpretations, drawing, painting, photography and restoration activities.
The first floor of the building will become an education center with live animal dioramas, student-friendly activities, tribute to George C. Washington, houseplants, local wildlife identification stations, bird feeding station viewing area, and a historical timeline of the local community.
The second floor will have office space and a space for partnerships to hold education programs. The second and third floors will also feature nine sleepover rooms to over 20 participants for a series of adult education workshops and summer camps. There will also be a teaching kitchen for cooking classes and an environmental library.
The outdoor educational retreat will also allow for a hefty volunteer program to help with the daily duties.
Fundraising begins soon with a summer solstice event to be held this June 23 from 6-9 p.m., a bat-house building program to be held at the Bellport Community Center on June 24, an open house weekend sometime in July and a bike-athon fundraiser for September. CEED T-shirts are also currently on sale.
Visit the Long Island Advance Facebook page for a photo tour of the house.
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