Quogue Wildlife Refuge To Celebrate 80th Year

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Some of Kristin Helmus’s earliest memories are of walking through the serene trails of the Quogue Wildlife Refuge—smelling the fresh air, watching ducks and geese swim in the pond, and listening to workers talk about the various species for which the 305-acre nature preserve is home.

She remembers taking trips to the reserve with her mother, Marian Matthews-Sansone, and her brother, Michael. Her mother told stories about when she had visited the Quogue Wildlife Refuge with her father, Philip Matthews. Ms. Matthews-Sansone passed along stories of the animals and the peace she found hidden in Quogue to her daughter, and now Ms. Helmus is passing along that same love of nature to her 5-year-old son, Jamie.

“It’s such a special place to have,” Ms. Helmus, who lives in Quogue with her husband, Jim, and their son, said. “I think it’s one of the hidden treasures in the Hamptons.”

As the youngest generation of the Matthews family enjoys the reserve, the nature center itself is celebrating its 80th year.

On Saturday, November 29, from 1:30 until 4:30 p.m., families and friends of the reserve are invited to celebrate the 80th anniversary and share stories from the past.

Ms. Helmus sent photos of her grandfather and mother from one of their many visits to the center in honor of the anniversary. The photos, along with submissions from other families who have visited the preserve throughout the years, will be added to a scrapbook that will be displayed in the main house.

Marisa Nelson, assistant director of the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, is compiling the scrapbook and hopes to finish by January.

On Old Country Road, the nature preserve was originally founded as a conservatory when local duck hunters noticed a decline in the population of black ducks in the early 1930s. A group of 45 duck hunters formed the Southampton Township Wildfowl Association, whose charter still hangs over the fireplace in the Charles Banks Belt Nature Center in the refuge.

Two charter members and owners of the Quogue Ice Company, cousins Abram and Erastus Post, let the association use the 10-acre pond to start in 1934.

During Saturday’s celebration, Ms. Nelson said tours and information sessions will be held in the ice house, which is still home to some of the original equipment used by Quogue Ice Company employees.

“We’re very excited,” Ms. Nelson said. “I don’t think a lot of people know the history of the refuge or our link to the Quogue Ice Company.”

In 1938, the Wildfowl Association bought 107 acres from the Quogue Ice Company for $1,400—land that now makes up the western edge of the refuge, which extended its borders to Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, according to the history of the refuge posted on its website. The Post family donated an additional 104 acres to the Village of Quogue and dedicated it as a wildlife refuge.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the refuge expanded again when more people discovered this hidden gem west of the Shinnecock Canal. A seven-mile system of nature trails was installed on the property. Then in the 1980s, an additional 100 acres was added after Southampton Town agreed to rezone a nearby subdivision from 2-acre lots to 1-acre lots as long as a portion of the property was given to the refuge.

To this day, the refuge is responsible for raising about $400,000 per year to operate the nature preserve. Ms. Nelson said the refuge collects these funds through the its annual appeal—which is being sent in the coming weeks—in addition to an annual fundraiser and grants. Admission to the refuge, including most classes and educational programs, is free.

The refuge began taking in distressed and injured animals in the 1960s when the Village of Quogue was undergoing a great deal of residential expansion. People began bringing animals to the preserve and workers became caretakers as well.

The refuge continues to be a place for animals that would not otherwise survive in the wild, Ms. Nelson said.

One of the newest members of the family is an opossum who loves attention, she said. The opossum will most likely make an appearance on Saturday, along with a fox, some reptiles and an owl or two.

Ms. Nelson said the preserve is still home to red-tailed hawks, a bald eagle, owls, foxes and reptiles, too.

Throughout the year, the preserve hosts educational programs, classes, midnight walks and even yoga sessions.

Ms. Nelson said that each year, the refuge tries to host new programs and classes for guests. This year, she noted, employees developed a program on bats.

As for Ms. Helmus, she hopes that her family will continue to visit the little oasis and that the memories she has of collecting leaves on the nature trails with her mother are memories she will continue to share with her son.

“It’s so great to be able to spend an afternoon there and just enjoy what nature has to offer,” she said.

Admission to the 80th anniversary celebration is free, though guests are encouraged to make a reservation by calling the refuge at (631) 653-4771.

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