Southampton Trails Preservation Society — Save the view from Whiskey Hill
By Courtney M. Holbrook
Preservation is a loaded word. Whether the term calls for the salvation of an old building or the sanctity of traditional values, it can unite people across the country.
But for the Southampton Trails Preservation Society (STPS), preservation means saving a great view for the community.
For years, the STPS has led hikers up and down the many trails of the East End. One of those trails, Whiskey Hill, off Stoney Hill Road just outside Sag Harbor, leads hikers to an overlook where they can see for miles. On a clear day, it’s even possible to catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean.
But while the Whiskey Hill Trail is town owned property, the overlook — a six-acre visual pay-off adjacent to it — belongs to a private owner. While the owner has allowed the trails group to enjoy the view, the STPS worries that should he eventually sell the property, another owner may not be so accommodating. But now, the property to the east of the vista has come up for sale and members of the STPS would like the town to buy it to ensure the view never goes away.
This past Tuesday, members of the STPS presented a proposal at a meeting of the Southampton Town Board asking them to consider purchasing the property with Community Preservation Fund (CPF) funds to preserve the view for future.
“Because this land is private property, that unbelievable vista could be taken away from us,” explained Dai Dayton of the STPS. “But the reaction was very positive at the town board meeting. This trail system is just an incredibly important part of this land, and needs to be a top priority.”
This proposal was forwarded to the town’s Community Preservation Fund office, which identifies and makes recommendations on parcels the town might want to consider for acquisition.
Tony Garro of the STPS noted that the overlook makes Whiskey Hill a favorite trail among hiking routes offered by the STPS, and he estimates the group leads hike to the area at least once a month. He points out that the vista is worth saving not just because it’s a beautiful view, but, in fact, because it provides a visual map of a the geological history of Long Island.
“A good teacher could give a geological lesson about the history of Long Island just from that vista,” Garro said. “It’s quite dramatic. To the south, you can see the outwash plains and the Atlantic Ocean; to the west, you can see glacial hills and the terminal moraine. Yes, you can see Southampton, Sagaponack and Bridgehampton — but you can also see 20,000 years of Long Island geological history.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst agreed with the concerns of the STPS. But with the issues of preservation and land purchases comes the problem of money.
“The land has a significant asking price. But it’s absolutely an important consideration, because that area occupies a special place in this town,” Throne-Holst said. “The Community Preservation Advisory Task Force works on long-term planning for the [Community Preservation] fund, so we’re meeting to decide what we can do.”
A condition of using CPF money for any land purchase is that the town may not pay more than the appraised value for a parcel. This means any deal would require a willing seller with a realistic price. If the asking price is more than the appraisal, the town cannot raise their offer.
Now that they’ve voiced their concerns, members of the STPS have to wait for the town to decide the future of the Whiskey Hill view.
“We just want to emphasis the unique beauty of that vista,” Dayton said. “If houses were built, it could be taken away from everyone.”