Partners pump $18M into Jones Beach education center

Smart beach: A public-private partnership will create an $18 million educational facility at Jones Beach State Park.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

The comprehensive revitalization of Jones Beach State Park will continue with the construction of a multimillion-dollar conservation-and-sustainability educational facility.

The Jones Beach Energy and Nature Education Center will be a public resource for all seasons, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, which announced this week that a public-private partnership would pour some $18 million into the creation of the new center – part of an effort designating the state park’s western end an official Park Preservation Area, including enhanced protections for the maritime coastal habitat.

The public-private partnership unites PSEG Long Island, the Long Island Power Authority, the New York Power Authority and private donors with Albany’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which will “construct an interactive facility to encourage visitors of all ages to become good stewards of the environment and smart energy consumers,” according to the governor’s office.

Practicing what it preaches, the net-zero center – slated to replace an existing building in the park’s West End 2 section – will be designed to generate as much electricity as it consumes by utilizing a series of environmentally friendly clean-energy technologies, and to convey that sustainable efficiency to visitors with real-time data displays.

It succeeds an outdated nature center located in the West End 1 section, which according to the governor’s office services approximately 10,000 visitors annually.

Rose Harvey: One-of-a-kind partnership.

Programs and exhibits currently located in the older nature center will be relocated to the new facility, which will also feature new hands-on displays and programs celebrating the uniqueness of Long Island’s various ecosystems and promoting energy and water conservation and other everyday efforts to create a more sustainable future.

Among the new-facility features on the drawing board, according to the governor’s office: exhibits explaining how electricity is generated and how renewable resources support the regional power grid, as well as interactive checklists showing how consumers can reduce their individual carbon footprints.

The Jones Beach Energy and Nature Education Center will also provide classroom space for outside organizations to host environmental-education programs.

The $18 million effort “highlights New York’s progress in revitalizing historic Jones Beach State Park,” according to Cuomo, who trumpeted his third-term administration’s “commitment to providing the very best recreation and tourism opportunities to both residents and visitors.”

“This investment will continue to boost tourism across the region, while preserving our environment and encouraging visitors to support our state’s outdoor resources,” the governor added.

As part of the expanded preservation effort, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will designate more than 218 acres of the state park’s west end as a Park Preservation Area, recognizing parklands that “possess outstanding ecological values, including plant and animal life, that are unique or rare in the state,” according to Cuomo’s office.

The designation is meant to promote a higher level of environmental stewardship by protecting all unique, rare, threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna within the affected zone, and otherwise mandating ecological stewardship. The designation also limits future on-site development to “passive recreation” uses, including hiking, birding and fishing.

Noting 6 million-plus annual visitors to Jones Beach State Park, NYS Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey cheered an “incredible opportunity to help people become better stewards of Long Island.”

“I am tremendously grateful to Gov. Cuomo and our partners at PSEG Long Island, LIPA and NYPA for helping create this one-of-a-kind facility,” Harvey said in a statement. “[It] will serve the educational needs of one of New York’s most distinctive state parks.”

The Park Preservation Area designation makes Jones Beach State Park’s west end one of only 16 Park Preserves or Park Preservation Areas in the New York State park system. The Jones Beach revitalization is part of Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 Plan, a $900 million commitment of private and public funding that’s already pumped some $50 million into Jones Beach-focused projects, according to the governor’s office.