Friends of the Big Duck hold their first meeting

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Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot met with a dozen or so community activists on Tuesday evening who are dedicated to making the most of the Big Duck’s return to its original home in Flanders.

Since its migration from Hampton Bays to its former Flanders nest in October, the iconic Long Island landmark has been sitting in a neglected, unkempt field surrounded by dilapidated buildings. The Friends of the Big Duck committee, which held its inaugural meeting at the Phillips Avenue School in Riverside on Tuesday, wants to spruce up the beloved landmark with landscaping and clear debris in time for the busy summer season.

The goals of the not-for-profit group are to promote the iconic duck as a focal point for the communities of Flanders, Northampton and Riverside and to beautify the property and preserve the site of the former Long Island duck farm.

“The better the image of the duck, the better the communities around it,” said Northampton resident Chris Sheldon, the group’s chairman. Mr. Sheldon said the group will hold subsequent meetings the first Tuesday of every month at the school.

Ms. Kabot said the landmark isn’t just about the local communities. “This is a town-wide asset,” she said.

To advance their cause, the organization plans to raise awareness with an annual festival that might include a parade, carnival, street fair, concerts and fireworks. Some members of the 
group also recommended holding an annual Easter duck-egg hunt there, something Ms. Kabot said she’d like to see happen. An egg hunt was suggested this year, but the grounds were unsafe, according to Ms. Kabot.

“I hated to have to say no to the kids,” she said. “And I want to be able to tell them yes next time.”

Duck advocates, chief among them Flanders resident Carl Iacone, have continuously complained about the conditions at the duck park. Given its visibility—situated on Route 24, a popular thoroughfare between Hampton Bays and Riverhead—Mr. Iacone thinks it’s vital to make some improvements before the summer.

In the meantime, on Saturday, April 28, Southampton Town Board member Chris Nuzzi joined the group to plant hostas and marigolds around the big bird.

Back in February, Tim Rumph of Araiys Design—a landscaping and architectural firm in Southampton—presented the Town Board with ambitious conceptual plans for the Big Duck Heritage Park. The project is estimated to cost between $5 million and $7 million and could be completed within the next five to seven years, according to Mr. Rumph. Ms. Kabot said the Town Board will likely adopt the conceptual plan in June.

The town has already earmarked $500,000 for Big Duck improvements, including a renovation of the structure itself, but it must wait for a state mandated archeological study to be completed before beginning a major cleanup of the grounds, Ms. Kabot said. The law requires a study in areas where sensitive archeological findings, such a Native American remains, may be present.

Though the Big Duck is listed on the national and state registries of historic landmarks, the 37-acre property upon which it sits is not. The land was purchased by Southampton Town in 2001 through the Community Preservation Fund for $1.65 million. The town recently hired Zachary Studenroth, a local historic preservation consultant, to complete the necessary documentation to have the property added to the historic registries. Ms. Kabot said that work should be completed in June. Mr. Studenroth is being paid $4,500 from the CPF Stewardship Account for his work.

To raise funds for their cause, the Friends of the Big Duck is holding a raffle Saturday, June 14, with prizes of $500, $300 and $200 cash. Tickets are $5 each.

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