Hempstead Lake State Park is protected from floods, and now open to all


Hurricane Sandy caused immeasurable grief and destruction nearly 11 years ago. That devastation, however, has spurred a few positives.

State officials in June announced the completion of a vast $47 million improvement project at Hempstead Lake State Park in West Hempstead, that will reduce flood risk and improve access to the 737-acre park.

The project includes two miles of new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant trails and an observation deck. In addition, the 150-year-old Hempstead Lake Dam was repaired and renovated to protect against future storm damage.

Officials said it was one of the largest wetlands projects ever completed by New York State Parks.

“Our parks are some of our greatest resources for relaxation, restoration, and connecting with our families,” said Town of Hempstead Deputy Supervisor Dorothy Goosby in a release. “I am happy that the improvement project has been completed; it was worth the wait.”

The $4 million renovation of the only high-hazard dam on Long Island, built in 1873, was a priority. Officials said the repaired dam would help maintain water levels of the lake, particularly if another hurricane like Sandy strikes. Officials had determined that if the dam were to fail, the damage would include highway flooding, water supply issues, and possible fatalities.

The state received a $35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and another $12 million in State Parks capital money was used.

The project was part of the Living with the Bay Initiative, created in the wake of Sandy to strengthen South Shore waterfront communities in Nassau County along Mill River. The state committed $125 million to fortify East Rockaway, Bay Park, Lynbrook, Malverne, Oceanside, Baldwin, and Rockville Centre from future stormwater damage.

The final phase of the project, recently finished, was making the 144-acre Northern Ponds complex better able to handle stormwater runoff into Hewlett Bay while reducing flood risks on Mill River.

Parks officials said they built eight acres of wetlands to allow runoff from Southern State Parkway to slowly filter before entering Northeast Pond. Smith Pond, a 22-acre freshwater pond in Rockville Centre, was upgraded with dredging and a floodwall.

“The culmination of these vital infrastructure projects will help make the Hempstead Lake State Park and surrounding communities safer and more resilient to future storms, while improving access to outdoor recreation in the community,” New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said in a release.

Other upgrades to the park include a new Eagle Avenue parking lot; an observation deck overlooking Northeast Pond; and removal of invasive plant species and replanting native species. Officials said it took one year to remove by hand more than 100 tons of decades-old trash in the Northern Ponds areas.

“We want everyone to enjoy our New York State Parks, especially those in District 18, the addition of new and better accessible trail ways open up the opportunity for all New Yorkers to enjoy the gorgeous trails, lake and wildlife that Hempstead Lake State Park offers,” said Assemblywoman Taylor Darling in a release. “As a member of the Committee on People with Disabilities, improving accessibility is incredibly important to me.”

A new 10-foot wide stone dust greenway trail was built to provide a continuous north-to-south trail system through the park. An eight-foot wide stone dust wetlands trail and two pedestrian bridges were built to allow emergency and maintenance vehicles access.

With an eye to the possibility of future storms, sluice gates were installed to allow control of lake levels prior to and during flooding. There is a new water level monitoring and lake temperature gauge system so officials can manage conditions in real-time and track data over time.

The 8,000-square-foot Environmental Education and Resiliency Center was built in 2021 at a cost of $8.3 million. The center features hands-on learning about storms and environmental management, and will serve as an emergency coordination center during disaster response, officials said.