It’s back to nature for the historic Washington Lodge

The Town of Brookhaven officially ‘Passed the Keys’ for the historic Washington Lodge property in Brookhaven to the nonprofit Art & Nature Group, Inc. (ANG) in celebration of the recently executed license agreement between ANG and the Town. As of May 1, 2017 ANG is authorized to operate, manage, run and offer environmental education programs as a nature center at the property, which includes an over 7,300 square foot historic house on 2-acres of grassland and woods situated at 287 South Country Road in Brookhaven Hamlet. An adjacent 7.6 acre parcel of land co-owned by the Town and Suffolk County and a close to 40-acre Suffolk County nature preserve across the street from the Lodge will also be utilized for programming under a separate agreement between ANG, the Town and the County.

ANG, which has already taken on the name Center for Environmental Education & Discovery (CEED) and has begun stewardship of the property, will raise close to $1 million in funds and in-kind support to renovate the historic structure and transform the property into a community nature center. CEED was co-founded by wilderness skills instructor Rebecca Muellers of Primitive Pursuits, and wildlife biologist Eric Powers of Your Connection to Nature.

“We are beyond excited to finally kick off our CEED project and to begin making this nature center a reality!” said Muellers. “Fundraising and renovations will be orchestrated in three manageable stages so we can open our doors and begin offering this valuable environmental education resource as soon as possible. It is a very exciting time for volunteers to step up and join the CEED community at its inception!”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilman Michael Loguercio, CEED Board members and other local officials and community leaders joined Muellers and Powers at today’s ceremonial celebration.

“By passing the keys to the Art & Nature Group, the Town furthers its commitment to preserving open space and our historic sites for the public benefit,” said Supervisor Romaine. “I believe that this property is now in good hands and I look forward to coming back for the opening of the Center for Environmental Education & Discovery.”

“I am happy to have played a part in making this day a reality for the Art & Nature Group,” said Councilman Loguercio, who represents Council District 4, which includes Brookhaven Hamlet. “Rebecca and Eric are the right people to be the stewards of this historic property and I will continue to work with them to see their plans come to fruition.”

The Washington Lodge has been sitting vacant and repeatedly vandalized since its longtime owners, the Marist Brothers, stopped using it as a retreat in 2010 and sold the property to a private-public partnership between the Brookhaven Hamlet-based Post-Morrow Foundation, the Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County. In spring 2016, Post-Morrow Foundation gifted its portion of the property to the Town. The Town and County having utilized Open Space funding to purchase the property, which stipulates that any future use be for environmental purposes only, ANG’s vision of transforming the property into a nature and environmental education center is an ideal repurposing of an unutilized municipal asset.

“Don’t expect your typical nature center,” Powers says “Expect Nature Center 2.0.” He continues, “There is currently a resurgence of people, especially adults, that want a deeper understanding of nature because they never really got it during their upbringing. They feel a yearning that can only be filled by a meaningful connection with nature…and that’s what we offer!”

Powers and his team of environmental educators and artists are looking to turn the old model nature center upside down by offering more substantive programs, ranging from beekeeping classes to wilderness survival training and, after the third stage of renovation which will refurbish bedrooms and bathrooms on the second and third floors, using the Lodge as an overnight nature retreat where visitors can spend multiple days delving deep into a subject matter. CEED would be the first nature retreat center on Long Island, potentially drawing participants not only from throughout Long Island but also from the tri-state area.

Utilizing the center as a demonstration site and environmental showcase for teaching about green technology such as composting toilets, solar power and nitrate-reducing septic systems is yet another factor that will set CEED apart from the rest.

“There are grants available from Suffolk County and other resources to help fund the installation of green technology at the center,” explains Powers. “The property sits in the Beaverdam Creek Watershed, so it is a critical location to protect. We are the perfect venue for not only acting green, but adding the all-important educational component for visitors to really learn about how nitrogen harms our waterways and about other advanced technologies that will help secure the future of our earth.”

Also in CEED’s plan is an environmental library with a strong focus on Long Island-based naturalists and accomplished environmental leaders such as Environmental Defense Fund founder Dennis Puleston. Puleston’s daughter, Jennifer Clement, serves on the CEED Board and is spearheading efforts to develop the center’s library.

Plus, Powers hopes that a collaborative office space for use by CEED’s Partner Members will become Long Island’s first green think tank. Muellers, who plans to take part in the shared office among other nature nonprofits, will offer Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Primitive Pursuits nature immersion programming at the center, which fosters environmental stewardship and self-esteem building for pre-school aged youth and up through primitive wilderness activities such as making fire by friction, crafting primitive tools, wilderness games and hunting for wild edibles.

For more information about CEED please visit the website, artnaturegroup.org or contact Rebecca Muellers at rebecca7470@gmail.com or at (516) 353-0036, or Eric Powers at yc2n@me.com or (631) 241-0088.

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