Beach Day: Mike Lovell

Life Long Environmentalist on the Seeds of His Passion for Native Planting

January 8, 2024, by Aeriel Brown. Photography by Johnny Panessa.

In this regular feature, we chat with friends of the conservancy—people working to protect our local waterways and community—about the thing that makes Mastic Beach so special: the beach.

Mastic area resident Mike Lovell is no stranger to wild places. For years, he’s been working and volunteering in some of the nation’s most majestic parks and wilderness areas. He’s surveyed trees and collected seeds from Idaho to Virginia, gaining intimate knowledge about the importance of native vegetation for local ecologies. He’s been putting that passion to good work locally, regularly joining groups like The Creek Defenders to remove invasive species and replace it with plants that are native to Long Island. When he’s not ripping out plants or digging holes for new ones, he can be found swimming laps and hiking some of the most famous trails in America. 

WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF THE BEACH?
Probably bodysurfing in the Atlantic ocean on the weekends as a kid.

DESCRIBE YOUR IDEAL DAY ON THE WATER.
It’s hard! Maybe tuna fishing or night fishing for bass. But if I had to choose one, it would be night fishing for bass on Smith Point or Fire Island. I haven’t done it in years though….

DESCRIBE YOUR FAVORITE SEASON ON LONG ISLAND. WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL TO YOU?
Summer! I love being at the beach, just walking. And in the summer, the flowers are mostly in bloom. I especially loved it during the pandemic. 

YOU’RE VERY INVOLVED IN ADVOCATING FOR NATIVE PLANTINGS AND FOR RESTORING PLACES LIKE PATTERSQUASH CREEK AND BAYVIEW PARK. HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THIS? WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS WORK?
In 2015 I started working for the National Parks including Shenandoah, Big Bend,
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Nez Perz National Forest as a bio-tech
surveying forest and desert plots and identifying native vegetation. Then locally, several
years later, I was asked to go to one of the Mastic Beach Ambassador meetings to see what it was all about. And everything just snowballed from there. Walter [Meshenberg of Creek Defenders] wanted to clean up the creeks and Tom Posillico felt the same, so we all said let’s see what we can do. That’s all where it started. But even before that, I had read Doug Tallamy’s books about native plants and insects and the birds and started experimenting in my own backyard. So I guess that’s where my interest in the native planting really started! In my own backyard.

Mike during an invasive species tear out in 2023.

SO FOR PEOPLE THAT WANT TO GET STARTED IN THEIR BACKYARDS, WHAT ARE SOME PLANTS THEY CAN START ADDING TO HELP THE ECOLOGY OF THE MASTIC PENINSULA?
Oaks, willows and cherries are great pollinators and if you can grow them in your area, that’s a good place to start. Smaller things like butterfly weeds, asters, solidago and goldenrods are also great.

ARE THERE ANY RESOURCES YOU RECOMMEND FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO GET STARTED?Nature’s Best Hope by Doug Tallamy is a good place. Anything by Tallamy, really will get you going. Also the Homegrown National Parks. All of those are great places to start.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH PEOPLE UNDERSTOOD ABOUT MASTIC BEACH — PARTICULARLY ITS NATURE?
It’s still pretty natural, except for the phragmites. It’s quiet. I like it here because there’s more beach and plant life than shops and restaurants on the water.