By Emily J. Weitz
The South Fork Trails Weekend is like any other celebratory weekend: it’s a time to honor and enjoy the subject. If it was a music festival, you’d hear it on the streets. If it was an art festival, the galleries would be jammed. But this is an opportunity to celebrate nature, and most people have a very quiet, personal way of doing that.
Perhaps that’s why the South Fork Trails Weekend, which has become an annual event over the last 15 years, is so important. It’s a chance for all these separate groups and individual nature lovers to gather together for a series of hikes, to appreciate nature as a community.
Both the Southampton Trails Preservation Society (STPS) and the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society (EHTPS) lead free hikes every weekend, with guides bringing visitors to some of the most beautiful and hidden trails in the area. Even though a solitary hike can be a powerful experience, there are great benefits to hiking with a group as well.
“The hikes I lead,” says Tony Garro of STPS, “are informative. I give history wherever I can. I lead hikes in interesting areas. It’s the difference between casually walking through the woods and being guided through the woods.”
When you’re hiking alone, you get to take in the big picture and the little details that speak to you. But at the same time, you might be missing a really interesting story right in front of you. For example, Garro led a hike last weekend at the Mulvihill Preserve.
“It looks like pleasant woods and ponds,” he says. “But 50 years ago that area was barren pastureland. To know that and point out how the woods have regenerated themselves is important.”
Both organizations have been around for about 25 years, leading hikes, building trails, and advocating for open space.
“There’s close to 250 miles of trails in East Hampton alone,” says Richard Poveromo, a volunteer with East Hampton’s trail group as well as founder of the Adopt A Trail program. “Things grow, you have to remove them on a regular basis.”
Poveromo brings about 15 to 20 volunteers out on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to maintain the trails by building bridges, rerouting trails and mowing. For those who don’t have the flexibility in their schedule to come out during the week, the Adopt a Trail program is a way that people can take responsibility for certain sections of trail, and maintain it on their own time.
With so many trails to hike and maintain, it makes sense that enthusiastic Southampton hikers might stay in Southampton and East Hampton hikers might not cross the Sag Harbor line. That’s part of the reason for the South Fork Trails Weekend, but not all of it. About 15 years ago, Dai Dayton was President of the Southampton Trails Preservation Society.
“We just thought the fall would be a nice time to get all our trails groups doing something together,” says Dayton, who is now the Vice President of event planning for Southampton Trails and President of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt. “It’s a good time to learn about the trails systems between the two towns.”
Due in large part to the work these organizations have done, these trails are now expertly linked.
“We have now established the Paumonok Path,” says Dayton proudly. “You can walk all the way from the nature center in Rocky Point to Montauk Point on blazed trails. That’s 125 miles. We’ve been working on that for at least twenty years.”
The South F`ork Trails Weekend instills a sense of community in hikers that might otherwise be going it alone. And that means a louder voice will ring out when a precious place is in jeopardy.
“The more people that appreciate what we have,” says Dayton, “the more people will be there when the town is thinking about preserving another parcel and it will be a stronger voice for open space.”
The weekend will consist of four favorite hikes. On Saturday, October 29 at 10 a.m., Howard Reisman will lead a four-mile hike in Elliston Park in Southampton. Also at 10 a.m. Saturday, Richard Poveromo will take hikers on a nine-mile adventure in Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island. He calls this one of his “favorite hikes. Looking out over the South Fork, over 2,000 acres of undeveloped land, it’s just beautiful.”
A third hike will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday out in Montauk, when Eva Moore takes hikers on a three-mile treasure hunt past Money Pond, where Captain Kidd’s treasure had supposedly been buried. And on Sunday, October 30 at 10 a.m., all are invited to take a five-mile hike with Joe Lane through the Long Pond Greenbelt, followed by lunch at the Long Pond Greenbelt Nature Center, courtesy of STPS. On this hike, participants will be walking part of the Paumanock Trail.
“We chose the fall [for this event] because of the colors,” says Dayton. “The leaves are changing, it’s nice and cool and beautiful. The sassafras, hickory, blueberry, and pepperidge trees are all changing color. We’re inviting everyone to come and have a great time.”
We all remember the power outages and the downed limbs on the streets in the aftermath of the great gusts of Hurricane Irene. But can you imagine how those winds affected our wooded trails? Volunteers with both EHTPS and STPS have been hard at work trying to clean up the damage and clear up the trails in the wake of that powerful storm.
“A lot of what we’re finding is trees,” says Tony Garro of STPS. “We’re going in with chainsaws and sawing them up. We have work parties every Thursday. Our main focus since Irene is to clean up the mess: small brush, limbs, and trees.”
Richard Poveromo’s East Hampton crew has also been busy.
“There were literally dozens upon dozens of trees. In Buckskill, the trees had already been damaged by gypsy moths in the past, and Irene brought many down. In one 2 1/2 mile section there were 17 trees down. From Sag Harbor to Montauk, there were hundreds.”
Other groups have contributed to the clean-up process as well. Through Poveromo’s Adopt a Trail program, East Hampton High School, The Ross School, corporate volunteers and individuals have all chipped in to get the trails back in shape.