For her 60th birthday, Hilary Woodward wanted to hike one of the longest nature trails in the country—and all the North Sea resident had to do was walk across her backyard.Ms. Woodward walked 50 miles over four days last month, traveling from her home to Montauk Point between March 6 and 9 with her husband, Eric, along the Paumanok Path.
“What astounded both of us was how the scenery changes,” she said. “There were some low oaks and some beautiful vistas—it really amazed me. Then there were the tall pines in East Hampton and the rolling hills in the Springs area.”
Running 125 miles from Rocky Point to Montauk Point, and through portions of Brookhaven, Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton towns, the Paumanok Path is the longest hiking trail on Long Island, and one of the East End’s hidden gems, despite literally running through the backyards of countless residents.
But despite the efforts of Southampton Town officials, who have access to the deep pockets of the Community Preservation Fund, and local activist and environmental groups, parts of the trail remain unsecured, including those tracts that run adjacent to the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays, as well as several properties in the eastern part of the town.
Since its creation in 1999, the town has used the CPF to purchase 385 acres within the Paumanok Path Target Areas, which includes those properties that would be part of the path itself or act as a buffer zone around it. According to the town’s website, these acquisitions make up more than 10 percent of the land preserved by the town.
Most recently, on March 11, the Town Board approved the purchase of a 1.07-acre lot on East Landing Road in Hampton Bays, near Squires Pond, for $600,000. The land will serve as a buffer for the trail. CPF Manager Mary Wilson said the town has purchased large sections of land for the Paumanok Path, including a 40-acre tract along Red Creek Road in Hampton Bays acquired in 2008, and 58 acres near Middle Line Highway and Roses Grove Road in North Sea that were purchased in 2001.
Ms. Wilson said it’s difficult to tell how much more land the town is targeting for the trail, as some of the property also falls in other target areas. Most of the remaining properties on the town’s radar, however, are in Shinnecock Hills.
“It’s part of a 125-mile effort from Rocky Point to Montauk Point,” Ms. Wilson said. “I believe it goes hand in hand with open space preservation for residents to be able to use the path and enjoy the natural beauty.”
The CPF collects funds from a 2-percent tax on most land transfers in the town. Ms. Wilson explained that in order for town officials to acquire land for preservation, they must have a willing seller, and those individuals must also understand that the town cannot pay more than the assessed value of any property.
All the trails in the town, many of which branch off from the Paumanok, are maintained by the Southampton Trails Preservation Society, a group of volunteers that keeps the paths clean and clearly blazed. The group, which was formed by a group of local equestrians in 1986 to protect the trails from the rampant development going on at the time, has been a vocal advocate for preserving more for the trail.
As it currently stands, the Paumanok Path can be traversed from end to end, but in order to get through Southampton Town hikers must at times walk along active roads, including Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays and Middle Line Highway in North Sea and Noyac. While this is unavoidable in certain instances, like when crossing the Shinnecock Canal, Trails Preservation Society member Glorian Berk said some places can be dangerous for hikers.
“Middle Line Highway is a road that we would have to walk a fair distance, and because it’s a straight-through to Bridgehampton, it does get a lot of traffic,” Ms. Berk said. “It’s very hilly there, so people, even if they’re driving at the speed limit, they’re gonna go 20 miles above it going downhill.”
Ms. Berk noted that the Southampton Trails Preservation Society gave the town a list containing the 10 most desirable properties for the trail that its members would like to see preserved and folded into the path in June 2012. To date, however, the town has been unable to secure any of them.
The top three properties on the list are a 5.6-acre lot on Laurel Valley Drive in North Sea, which is currently owned by Westbury-based U & Me Homes LLC; a 4.5-acre lot on Middle Line Highway in Bridgehampton, owned by Southampton-based Throgs Neck Trading Group LTD; and a 13.1-acre property on South Valley Road in Hampton Bays, now owned by Peter Balkheimer of Hampton Bays, according to town records.
Not all of the lots would require full preservation, according to the group. The Balkheimer property, which has a one-story, single-family house on it, would require only partial preservation, and the group is requesting that the town negotiate a trail crossing through the property on Middle Line Highway.
One property that the town is targeting for the path actually falls within the Canoe Place Inn Maritime Planned Development District, or MPDD, in Hampton Bays. That proposed development, which includes three properties near the Shinnecock Canal, would bring 40 townhouses to the east side of the canal along with a newly renovated Canoe Place Inn. The easternmost property in the proposed development, a 2.7-acre lot just east of North Road that would house a wastewater treatment facility for the townhouses under current plans, is targeted as a critical linkage area for the path.
The town has asked Gregg and Mitchell Rechler, the developers behind the MPDD, to find a way to incorporate the preservation of land for the Paumanok Path in their development application. Jim Morgo, a spokesman for the Rechlers, said the cousins are looking at ways to address that concern, along with numerous others for when they submit a revised proposal sometime in the coming weeks or months.
“Like everything else, they are looking into it,” Mr. Morgo said. “It was mentioned and they’re aware of it, and they’re trying to craft a response that will address both the town’s comments and the public’s comments.”
Susan Colledge, a member of the Southampton Trails Preservation Society’s regular maintenance team, said while the Paumanok Path is serviceable as is—with the sections running along major roads—it is still important to continue seeking natural alternatives.
“When we declare a piece of road as part of a trail, it’s like admitting that this is the only way we can [complete it],” said Ms. Colledge, who also lives in North Sea. “And that could make it look like a lower priority than it should be.”