Plans for Long Island’s first nature center and retreat — complete with rooms for lodging — are now fully underway in Brookhaven Hamlet.

Members of the nonprofit Art & Nature Group, Inc., have taken control of the historic Washington Lodge property for the Center for Environmental Discovery and Education, or CEED.

Town officials held a passing-of-the-key ceremony Thursday to mark the transition.

“Next is fundraising,” said Eric Powers, who co-founded the Art & Nature Group, “because we have a lot of repairs. This house has been broken into and vandalized, so we need to get our basic services running and develop program space.”

The hope is to reach those milestones by next summer. But with control of the property, which actually happened last month, outdoor programming can already begin.

Powers said astronomical events and solstice parties are planned. Future programming plans also include beekeeping classes and wilderness survival training.

Then, the group will start looking up. There are several bedrooms and private bathrooms on the 7,300-square-foot building’s second and third floors. Those rooms will allow the lodge to be used as “an overnight nature retreat where visitors can spend multiple days delving deep into a subject matter,” reads a press announcement.

“CEED would be the first nature retreat center on Long Island, potentially drawing participants not only from throughout Long Island but also from the tri-state area.”

Powers calls CEED a “nature center 2.o.”

The CEED project was co-founded by Powers, a wildlife biologist who runs Your Connection to Nature, and wilderness skills instructor Rebecca Muellers of Primitive Pursuits.

Both were on hand Friday for the passing of the key.

“This has been a lifelong dream of mine, to have a nature center that is ours, and run programs without crazy restrictions. I just did a nature program in a school, and they said, ‘We want a live animal show but we can’t have any live animals,'” Powers recounted to laughter.

“Our education system is so filled with fear and misconceptions about the outdoors,” he continued. “And I think that all stems from lack of education or a real connection with the outdoors. We’re going to be lighting that candle in people and using this wonderful property to connect them back to nature …”

The Washington Lodge, which is at least 100 years old, has been empty since its longtime owners, the Marist Brothers, stopped using it as a retreat in 2010. A housing development was then planned. 

But the building and the land surrounding it, nearly 10 acres in all, was preserved through a joint effort of the town, county and Post-Morrow Foundation, a Brookhaven conservation and preservation group.

During the spring of 2016, Post-Morrow Foundation gifted its portion of the property to the town, which along with the county had used open space funding to acquire the land for purposes just like what’s planned with CEED.

The Town Board in August approved a license agreement to let Art & Nature Group Inc. operate CEED out of the historic building in return for improving it and being stewards of the protected acreage.

The lodge is named for a former owner, George Constant Louis Washington, famous for inventing a form of instant coffee that was later sold around the world.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine called the CEED project something that is the result of thinking “outside of the box [within government] to protect our environment … to pass on to the next generation so they understand and respect it.”

He called the nature center and retreat “something that’s going to make a huge difference in this community.”

The house sits on two acres of grassland and woods at 287 South Country Road, on the north side of the two-lane roadway. The property is also next to a 7.6-acre parcel co-owned by the town and Suffolk County and close to 40-acre county nature preserve. That preserve will also be utilized for programming under a separate agreement between the Art & Nature Group, the town and the county.

All that, and model and actress Isabella Rossellini of Bellport operates a farm next door.

“She’s been very supportive of this project from day one,” said Muellers, gesturing toward Rossellini, who was in attendance Thursday. “We’re hoping that maybe we can cross program.”

“Of course,” Rossellini responded.

Deer Run Farms is also nearby.

“It’s just a perfect spot for this to happen,” Muellers said.

And by “this,” Powers indicated it’s all about reconnecting people to nature over the longer term.

“We need a people that knows how to live in harmony with nature, so that we have a sustainable future for all generations,” he said. “That’s what we’ll be teaching here, planting that seed in everybody to have this education passed on from generation to generation.”

Photo: Town Supervisor Ed Romaine passes a key to Rebecca Muellers as Town Councilman Michael Loguercio and Suffolk County legislative aide to Kate Browning, Joshua Slaughter, look on Thursday in Brookhaven Hamlet. (Credit: Michael White)

prior coverage:

This is a nature center 2.0 being planned for Brookhaven’s Washington Lodge