The Friends of Long Pond Greenbelt held a Full Harvest Moon Hike on the grounds of the South Fork Natural History Museum on last Thursday.
By Tessa Raebeck; Photography by Michael Heller
The Long Pond Greenbelt has harbored everything from glaciers to gristmills, but it wasn’t until 15 years ago that it had friends.
A 1,100 acre expanse of ponds, woods and wetlands, the greenbelt stretches nine miles from Otter Pond in Sag Harbor to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean in Sagaponack. As home to over 100 different bird species, at least 30 rare species of plants and animals and 13 coastal plain pond communities, it is widely recognized as one of the most ecologically significant areas in New York State.
Since 1997, a group of dedicated individuals has worked to see that the greenbelt — and the hundreds of species living there — maintains that recognition. When plans to develop the old Bridgehampton Winery into a nine-hole golf course with a residential subdivision emerged in the mid-‘90, Bridgehampton resident Dai Dayton, whose family has been here for generations, sprang into action. Together with friend and neighbor Sandra Ferguson, Dayton formed the group Save Black Pond and Its Wetlands and led a successful campaign to stop the development and preserve the land.
Once the Town of Southampton and Suffolk County had each purchased parcels of the land for preservation, Dayton and Ferguson used the remainder of the funds they had raised to create the non-profit Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt (FLPG) to continue and expand their protection of the greenbelt.
Fifteen years later, FLPG has grown from a band of concerned friends to a relevant community force with over 270 members. To commemorate their first year of stewardship, FLPG hosted a community-wide celebration of the greenbelt in 1998.
This Saturday, the group is again inviting the community to discover and enjoy the greenbelt at their 15th Annual Celebration, a free day of games, activities and exploration at the South Fork Natural History Museum (SoFo) on the site of the old Bridgehampton Winery. The rain or shine event will be held at Vineyard Field, the 39-acre property behind SoFo that is also the site of Dayton and Ferguson’s first successful preservation campaign. The celebration includes refreshments, a light lunch and a diverse roster that organizers hope will ensure visitors of all ages leave feeling both educated and entertained.
“Because this is our 15th year, we’re joining with SoFo and the Peconic Land Trust to make it a bigger and better event,” said Dayton, who now serves as president of FLPG (Ferguson is vice president).
New York State Assemblyman and lawyer Fred Thiele, who helped FLPG file for non-profit incorporation with the state pro bono in 1997, will commence the day with a short speech on the greenbelt.
Kicking off the activities at 10:30 a.m. is the naturalist and birder John Turner. The author of “Exploring the Other Island; a seasonal guide to nature on Long Island,” Turner will lead guests on a two and a half mile hike from Vineyard Field to the grasslands in Poxabogue County Park.
“People will be able to see two different grasslands,” said Dayton. “That will be descriptive. He knows anything and everything about nature.”
At 11 a.m., visitors can search for reptiles with “Snakeman” Chris Chapin on a half mile hike. According to Dayton, Chapin is “coming to show the children any of the snakes or frogs or anything we can find out on the trail, so that will be a fun hike for the kids.” Chapin’s hike will follow the mowed trails around the field.
Attendants are invited to meet the animals of the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, which could include anything from a chinchilla to a snake to birds of prey. Sag Harbor’s own puppet theater, Goat on a Boat, will be on hand for puppet making and shows. The Children’s Museum of the East End, the Group for the East End and other environmental groups will also be setting up interactive displays about different aspects of the environment.
“We are excited to co-host the 15th Annual Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt Celebration here at SoFo this Saturday,” said Frank Quevedo, executive director of the museum. “This will be a great opportunity for everyone to experience this breathtaking environment as well as show their appreciation to the group that has dedicated the last 15 years to restoring and preserving this habitat.”
The Long Pond Greenbelt stretches nine miles from Ligonee Creek in Sag Harbor Village to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean in Sagaponack. At its northern edge, the Ligonee Brook wetland system connects the fresh waters of Long Pond to the bay waters of Sag Harbor Cove. Comprised of interconnected, unspoiled coastal plain ponds, freshwater swamps, wetlands and oak forests, the greenbelt stretches south to Sagg Pond and opens to the salt waters of the ocean. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including red-tailed hawks and painted turtles. The greenbelt also houses at least one endangered species, the eastern tiger salamander.
According to The Nature Conservancy, “this ecosystem supports one of the highest concentrations of rare species and natural communities anywhere in New York State. Its preservation has been a priority for the Town of Southampton since 1968, when the Sag Harbor conservationists first wrote to the town regarding its protection.”
Of the 1,100 acres of the greenbelt, over 600 have been preserved by Suffolk County, Southampton Town and The Nature Conservancy, thanks in large part to the efforts of FLPG.
“It’s a great place for people to walk and it’s just extraordinarily rich from a biodiversity point of view,” said Nancy Kelley, executive director of the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “The Long Pond Greenbelt is an extraordinary jewel in the heart of the South Fork and the friends of the greenbelt have been wonderful stewards of this very special place both for people and nature.”
In addition to hosting educational programs, moonlit nature hikes and annual celebrations, members of FLPG work around the clock on a variety of issues affecting the greenbelt. Friends of the greenbelt can be found calling for action at town hall, battling invasive species in Vineyard Field or monitoring the illegal use of motorized vehicles on trails.
Fifteen years after they saved it from being developed into putting greens and second homes, Dayton, Ferguson and other founding members of FLPG will be back in Vineyard Field this Saturday. They may be celebrating, but they’re the first to say their work is far from over.
“We have to continue on our grasslands restoration because we need to keep back those invasive species for sure,” said Dayton of a 15-year project in the field that started in 2009. Dayton said FLPG is also working to clear Ligonee Creek, re-populate the quail population of Vineyard Field and collaborate with the town, county and The Nature Conservancy to increase enforcement of illegal motorized vehicle use.
“We’re going to work on more education and bringing more people to understand what an important area it is and to enjoy the area,” Dayton continued her long list of objectives. “There’s big support for the greenbelt. So many different people use it — love it.”