Appetite For Destruction
The environmental, cultural and historical significance of Sands Point Preserve cannot be understated. From steep, rocky cliffs to lazy, sandy beaches and lush, diverse woodlands replete with hiking trails, ponds and streams, teeming with wildlife and overlooking the tranquil waters of the Long Island Sound, the property is a treasure trove of natural splendor. It also holds some of Nassau’s most priceless treasures.
The property was the muse for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “East Egg” in his classic The Great Gatsby. It is the home of the 100,000-square-foot medieval-towering Gould Castle, modeled after Ireland’s Kilkenny Castle; Daniel and Florence Guggenheim’s opulent cliffside Hempstead House; their son Harry and wife Alicia Patterson’s (Newsday founder) former residence, the breathtaking French manor Falaise—still furnished with much of Harry’s world-renowned original artwork and sculptures; and the equally magnificent country estate Mille Fleurs.
Rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard frequented here—his groundbreaking work eventually funded by the Guggenheims. Charles Lindbergh sought refuge and wrote a book on these grounds. Orville Wright, Herbert Hoover, Frank Lloyd Wright, Madeleine Albright and Bernard Baruch, along with countless other heads of state and historical figures from across the globe spent time at Sands Point.
The property is the epitome of Long Island’s fabled Gold Coast Estates. It’s also on the National Register of Historical Places. Lately, it’s become a war zone and a shell of its former magnificence.
There’s less than a skeleton crew of county museum personnel on the grounds—the majority of those with institutional knowledge about the site’s significance long gone. Gould Castle, once host to museum exhibitions and related events, in recent years featuring a popular animated dinosaur show, is for the most part off-limits to the public, no longer holding exhibits—its interior now, thanks to the Friends, leased to Tiny Horse Productions, a film production crew (raising alienation of parkland concerns for some Friends critics). Hempstead House has become the set of Fox’s lackluster Running Wilde TV series, starring Will Arnett and Keri Russell—ironically centering around the protagonist billionaire’s pursuit of his tree-hugging former girlfriend’s affection, while she tries to stop his family’s company from plundering the rainforest for oil.
While all of Sands Point Preserve’s buildings are in need of varying states of repairs, Falaise’s is most pressing, requiring significant roof and window work; an adjacent sea wall is in imminent need of repair to stop it from toppling into the Sound—the job’s been in Nassau’s capital improvements budget for years but has yet to be done. For now, it’s the preserve’s grounds that need an immediate savior.
At the helm of the Friends of the Sands Point Preserve is a 15-member board of directors (currently) and within that is an executive board consisting of chairman Karli Hagedorn, vice chairman Jean-Marie Posner, treasurer Tony Dalessio and secretary Jim Hagedorn. The Friends’ general manager is Matthew Rocchio. The Hagedorns are owners of Scotts Miracle-Gro, the world’s largest marketer of lawn and garden care products, with more than $3 billion in annual worldwide sales). Karli’s mother, Marcia Forman, is a director.
Messages for comment left at the homes of the Hagedorns, Posner and Forman, as well as with Rocchio to relay to them, were not returned as of press time. Rocchio, who has been working at the preserve since February without a required waiver from the Nassau County Attorney’s Office, refused to speak about any of the incidents outlined in this story unless otherwise quoted, referring all such inquiries to the Hagedorns and Posner.
Friends groups are nothing new; there are nearly three dozen currently picking up the slack for cash-strapped municipalities at state and county parks and historical sites here on Long Island, according to a recent count. Some have also come under fire in the past for their indiscretions—Friends for Long Island’s Heritage, and later its offshoot, Nassau Heritage, are first to come to mind. Now it’s the aggressive, do-now-apologize-later attitude and non-nature preservation activities employed by Friends of the Sands Point Preserve—that have many across the environmental spectrum sounding the alarm. They’re mad as hell.
Several months ago, they told Mangano as much. In a letter dated July 1, a half dozen representatives of various Port Washington environmental organizations expressed their concerns about the Friends group, asserting that the county must “exercise its oversight under the agreement with the Friends as well as the federal government and ensure that management of the preserve complies with the terms of those agreements.”
They questioned the existence of a master plan for site development (there is none, the Press has learned), stressed the need for oversight and called for the possibility of a nonpartisan volunteer panel of experts to review and advise on site development proposals, reminding the administration it was bound by the provisions of a Recreation and Park Utilization Agreement from the 1971 transfer of 127 acres of the property from the federal government, which dictated “woods, fields, shore and stream, and native animal life…be perpetuated.”
They also expressed collective outrage about several troubling incidents, including the removal of bird eggs from the nest of a native, migratory species “either by deliberate action, ignorance, or carelessness,” the decimation of many large trees to clear land for an activity area, widespread removal of bird nesting habitats and “the broadcast spraying of herbicides on lawn areas,” and implored the county to “exert its legal obligations to assure that the Sands Point Preserve is operated in an environmentally responsible manner in keeping with the intent of the original agreements with the federal government and the Harry F. Guggenheim Foundation.”