By Emily J. Weitz
Twenty thousand years ago, the glacier that formed the South Fork of Long Island started to melt, and it left behind a smattering of fresh ponds (about 30 in all) that continue to sustain unique ecosystems in the area from Sag Harbor to Sagaponack. The ponds are fed by the groundwater supply, and have been called the “most biologically diverse areas in New York State” by the Nature Conservancy. From Poxabogue Pond in Sagaponack to Otter Pond in Sag Harbor Village, local nature enthusiast Tony Garro will guide hikers through the Long Pond Greenbelt on Sunday to take in the splendor of these distinct ponds.
“The ponds have a subtle beauty,” says Garro. “If you stood at the edge of Crooked Pond in autumn and watched the reflection of the trees turning color in the pond itself, it’s like autumn colors in stereo. It takes your breath away.”
The wildlife and vegetation in and around the ponds are abundant, with 84 distinct bird species, 392 floral species (including 30 that are rare), and 32 types of butterflies according to the south Fork Natural History Society Newsletter.
There are also garter snakes, ribbon snakes, fish, several kinds of turtles, salamanders, frogs, dragonflies, rodents, deer, and foxes in and around the ponds. Garro has observed nature in action many times on these trails.
“A couple of years ago,” he recalls, “I was walking by Long Pond in late April or May, and all of a sudden, I looked down towards the railroad bed and I saw dozens of baby snapping turtles that had just hatched from their eggs. I just happened to be there at the moment they had hatched and were moving towards the pond.”
As the seasons change and the years pass, the ponds, too, are constantly in flux. For someone like Garro, who has watched these changes patiently, it’s one of the things that makes the area so unique.
“The rise and the fall of the water in the ponds means every time you walk past it’s a different pond,” he said. “Around each pond are five biospheres, and each biosphere has its own unique system of flora and fauna that depend on the water level at a given time.”
He recalls when he first came to the area and hiked near Crooked Pond.
“There was a drought and the ponds were low,” he said. “There’s a little island in the middle, but at this point you could actually walk to the island. Then you think ‘Maybe the pond will disappear’, but no, it became an island again.”
These changes apply to the forest surrounding the ponds too. Even though now, walking deep into the woods, there’s a feeling of timelessness and peace, Garro warns that “The Greenbelt is far from pristine. In fact, it’s been exploited over the last 300 years. At one time it was probably like a Garden of Eden in there, but then the forest was cut for firewood and wood for houses, and the railroad was built right through it. It’s like a scar that runs through the Greenbelt.”
Over the last 40 or 50 years, though, Garro says the Greenbelt has been left alone. “And son of a gun, it’s regenerated itself,” he says.
On the five mile hike that Garro will lead, hikers will pass Poxabogue Pond, Little Poxabogue, Crooked Pond, Deer’s Hole, Long Pond, Little Long Pond, Round Pound, Fore and Aft Pond, and Otter Pond.
“Each has its own special beauty,” says Garro. “Each one is an individual, with its own physical characteristics and its own personality. The Native Americans thought that each of the ponds fulfilled certain needs.”
Poxbogue Pond, the only pond with an Algonquin name, was believed to have healing qualities. In William Halsey’s book “Sketches from Local History,” he recounts the story of a Shinnecock woman who was walking down the long road which is now the Bridge/Sag Turnpike.
“She was visibly pregnant, and she asked a farmer if she could ride in the back of his wagon. When they got to Poxabogue Pond, she got out and disappeared into the woods. The next day she was seen walking out carrying her infant. She gave birth in what she thought was a healing place… To the Shinnecock, these weren’t just ponds,” Garro sighs.
“So much has been lost of the Native American worldview,” Garro continued. “I would like to know their take on each pond in the Greenbelt. But that’s lost and gone forever.”
Still, due to the hard work of many over the past several decades, the Long Pond Greenhbelt is rejuvenating.
“It can never go back to pristine,” says Garro. “But it is beautiful, with a subtle kind of grandeur that has been recaptured. If you leave nature alone, it will heal itself.”
The Southampton Trails Preservation Society will sponsor this hike, from 10a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 18. Meet at Mashashimuet Park.