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Guardians Of Nature

Friends of Massapequa Preserve

Massapequa Preserve—the beautiful 423-acre nature sanctuary that lies between Farmingdale and Massapequa—draws scores of people every day wishing to get away from the hustle and bustle of every-day life.

Criss-crossed with trails and pathways for walking, jogging, and bicycling, and a plethora of wet and wooded areas filled with wildlife doing their very best to resist humanity’s ongoing encroachment upon their rapidly-shrinking habitat, the Preserve has acquired a watchful guardian in recent years in the Friends of Massapequa Preserve.

Started in 2000 by Richard and Lisa Schary to get the community involved in improving conditions in the Preserve, the Friends of Massapequa Preserve started out as labor of love on the part of two retired teachers who share a mutual love of nature.

However, the biggest public proponents of the Massapequa Preserve want to clear up a misconception about themselves- the Scharys are actually not from Massapequa.

“That’s a common misconception people have...we don’t live in Massapequa. We live in North Bellmore,” Richard Schary says. “We’ve lived there for about 35 years, but the problem is that North Bellmore has no parks! In fact, it’s the only municipality in the Town of Hempstead without a park.”

Soon after first settling down in North Bellmore, the Scharys, both active, outdoor-types, sought an outlet for their naturalistic needs; that outlet, of course, ended up being the Massapequa Preserve.

 “We discovered it, very simply, by using it,” he said. “Walking, hiking, bicycling, jogging, fishing...my wife paints and does nature photography...it’s a beautiful, amazing place to do all of that.”

 However, human encroachment upon the Preserve has had its share of effects, both positive and negative. Although it is run and maintained by the Nassau County Department of Parks, Schary says that conditions in the Preserve are hit-or-miss at best in terms of pollution, garbage dumping, fires and vandalism.

 Clearly, Schary believes, something needed to be done.

 “Going back 35 years ago, the Preserve was never really cared for properly. The main part was well-cared for, but when you go off the paths and into the woods, that’s when you see all the problems,” he explains. “I always said to myself that when I retire, I’d like to do something about the problems there...lo and behold, I retired, and the same year I retired, we started this group.”

Schary and his wife used the local media and mailing lists to get word out about his new group, and soon the Friends of Massapequa Preserve had become a force to be reckoned with. Purely driven by volunteers, the Friends orchestrated multiple clean-up projects, removing trash, graffiti, and even rusty old car wrecks that were hidden deep within the Preserve.

Lisa Schary says that during the initial clean-up of the Preserve, the Friends found help from many corners—Boy Scouts, local schools, and concerned citizens all wanted to pitch in and help the Preserve achieve its full potential as a destination for families and nature-lovers.

“The Eagle Scouts did a lot of the work, such as moving the old cars piece by piece,” she says. “We also had a group of students from McKenna Elementary School who adopted parts of the Preserve, and they helped as well. We involved the community, and we made sure that there was a way for them to be connected.”

In addition, the Friends regularly alert Nassau County to any issues facing the Preserve that need their attention. Often, Schary says, the public mistakenly thinks he and his wife actually run it, as opposed to just being volunteers.

As an additional means of spreading their message, in 2004 the Friends developed a 14-minute documentary on the area, using $15,000 of grant money provided by New York State. The documentary, entitled Massapequa Preserve: A Natural Wonder in Your Own Backyard, illuminates both the lush beauty and underlying threats facing this local natural resource.

The Friends of Massapequa Preserve now numbers 500 families, and, according to Richard Schary, its success has bred like-minded groups all over Long Island.

“We’ve used it as a model for other groups...we helped formed the Friends of Tackapausha Preserve in Seaford, and we’re also forming the Friends of Norman J. Levy Preserve in Merrick,” he says. “We want the preserve to remain how it is...we want it preserved for future generations so that they can enjoy and appreciate it. We’re visitors, observers, and protectors.”

“We both have a vested interest in protecting the environment,” adds Lisa Schary, who was appointed one of Senator Charles Fuschillo’s Women of Distinction in 2012 for her environmental activism. “We want people to use and enjoy the Preserve, but we want them to not harm the animals. We want the Preserve to be forever wild and forever free.”

If you want to know more about the Friends of Massapequa Preserve, please visit: http://www.fdale.com/fmp/fmp.htm.