By Bryan Boyhan
Much like the ancient trails that connect villages and places of interest throughout England and Wales, the Southampton Town Trails Preservation Society is proposing a collection of paths that will link the various villages and hamlets throughout the town. The first will connect Sag Harbor with Bridgehampton.
“We have all the elements, ponds and the glacial moraine; historic towns and villages,” said Tony Garro, a member of the society’s Hamlet-to-Hamlet Committee, which received approval from the Southampton Town Board last week to move ahead with the project.
Garro said he was inspired to promote the idea here by a trip he took to Britain several years ago. In both England and Wales there is a vast network of trails, many hundreds of years old, that crisscross the countries, often crossing over private lands. While there are few — if any — trails in Southampton Town that cross private property, the network of trails that already exist, and those proposed, cross over lands preserved by the town or Suffolk County, and in some cases, the Nature Conservancy.
It is one of the major differences between the trails system here and in England – very few of the trails in the UK are on land preserved by the government.
“Here, public trails on private property don’t mix,” acknowledged Garro. In England the attitude is very different.
“We met no hostility or resentment hiking across farms or yards,” said Garro of his time in England. If there was a gate in a fence, he said, “you might see a sign that said ‘please close the gate’.”
In many cases, the trails here that will connect the various hamlets, already exist. In some cases, such as a stretch at the southern end of the proposed trail to Bridgehampton, they do not. Although there is a base for the trail — the old bed of the railroad that once ran between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor — a length of about a mile-and-a-half needs to be cleared and marked.
Local hikers are already familiar with the network of trails that run south of Mashashimuet Park and throughout the Long Pond Greenbelt, and several of these trails will be used in heading south to Bridgehampton. But in keeping with the idea that these trails will link hamlet or village centers, the trail from Sag Harbor to Bridgehampton will likely start somewhere near the village’s Municipal Building on Main Street. The “trail” would then take a traveler south to Mashashimuet Park, where it enters the woods adjacent to the park on the old railroad bed. A kiosk with a map of the trails marks the beginning here just south and west of the playground.
A hiker would continue on to the trail that veers off to the left several hundred yards down — Sprig Tree Path — which walks along the western edge of Long Pond, following the trail until it continues over the LIPA right-of-way then re-joining the old railroad bed as it approaches the turnpike just south of Scuttle Hole Road. Here the hiker will have to cross over the turnpike — approximately where the railroad once crossed over nearly 75 years ago — and walk about 100 yards south before taking a short, yet-to-be-built road that will lead into where the railroad bed continues its route toward Bridgehampton.
This leg of the trail needs some work. While the northern end of the bed has been cleared and hiked for years, the southern portion, which has been on private lands for many years, is largely overgrown. The town recently acquired much of this length of the railroad bed through a concession from a developer who intended to subdivide the acres of vacant land behind the homes on the west side of the turnpike.
The trail here will follow the roadbed, paralleling the turnpike, heading south, behind the Children’s Museum of the East End, then veering off west to intersect with Lumber Lane, where the still active Long Island Railroad crosses on its way to Montauk.
From there, hikers would walk south on Lumber Lane then west on Maple Lane to the trail’s terminus at the Bridgehampton train station, about a quarter mile.
Other trails will connect Sag Harbor to Noyac, following the Paumanok Path west to a side trail that exists to Trout Pond, and from there other trails lead from Trout Pond to Elliston Park in North Sea. Getting from North Sea to Southampton Village will be a challenge, Garro concedes, but he is confident his committee will find a way. More daunting is getting from Southampton through Shinnecock Hills, across the canal to Hampton Bays, since very little public land exists in the area. Elsewhere on the western side of the town there are many opportunities to connect with communities like Flanders, Westhampton and Quogue.
Garro is quick to point out the historic significance of hiking the trail between Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton. As the route the railroad took it is a reminder of the way the village itself evolved. The railroad was extended to Sag Harbor in 1870 as the village was reinventing itself as an industrial hub after the whaling industry collapsed. Both the directors of the LIRR and the village fathers saw it as a great opportunity.
The hamlet-to-hamlet trail system will continue to “evolve,” Garro said.
“I believe it will become part of the Southampton experience, as much as the trail system in England is part of the British experience,” he said.