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Jul 1, 2019 10:36 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Suffolk County Launches First Phase Of Blueway Trail Plan Which Calls For Public's Help

The new Blueway Trail would be a boon for local organizations such as Paddlers For Humanity, which held a stand-up paddling tour of Napeague Harbor back in 2011. FILE PHOTO
Jul 1, 2019 11:20 AM

Calling all paddlers, kayakers, canoeists, and all others related.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced on June 26, National Canoe Day, that the first phase of the Suffolk County Blueway Trail plan is underway, and he’s asked the public for help.

The initial phase will inventory the existing resources for paddlers and solicit feedback from residents to identify a list of amenities needed to improve the various launch sites throughout the county. The comments and recommendations received through the survey, which is currently open and will be until July 15, will be used to help create the county’s Blueway Trail, funded, in part, by the New York State Department of State through Title 11 of the Environmental Protection Fund. The survey can be found on the Suffolk County website at suffolkcountyny.gov.

“Our ultimate goal is to link the Blueway Trail to our great recreational assets, such as our parks, beaches, and hike and bike trails, as well as provide opportunities to advance ecotourism and economic development within the county,” Bellone said, through a county-issued press release. “Paddling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise at the same time. The county is committed to working with residents to add to the enjoyment of the experience.”

A blueway trail is similar to a hiking trail, in that it provides suggested routes depending upon skill level and locations of features such as rest stops, scenic locations, bird watching and amenities such as restrooms, concessions, nearby businesses, and parking. Ideally, a blueway trail includes way-finding signage to help paddlers find launch locations and provides information such as maps, environmental educational information and safety information.

The Blueway Trail Plan will make non-motorized water sports—kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and rowing—more accessible to residents and visitors by identifying information needed for a safe and fun paddling experience. Once priority sites have been identified, Suffolk County will work with the various municipalities to identify funding sources for specific project improvements and develop a management, communication and marketing plan.

“Paddlers have long enjoyed Suffolk’s scenic waters, and we want to make it easier for residents and visitors to learn how to take advantage of the magnificent waterways we have available to us while doing it in a safe and fun way,” Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, the Blueway Trail Plan initiator, said in the press release.

Mike Bottini, author of “Exploring East End Waters: A Natural History and Paddling Guide” and an avid paddler on the East End, as well as a weekly columnist for The Press, said the plan was a great idea and pointed to the Maine Island Trail as one of the oldest, most extensive and most popular.

“I’ve paddled several sections of that route,” he said. “The Maine Island Trail Association is a non-profit that takes responsibility for developing the route, and stewarding and monitoring island campsites. It’s a staffed, professional organization that has also done an excellent job educating users with regard to the route’s ecological fragility and how to minimize impacts as a user. One of the problems here in Suffolk County is that we have many public access points to the water, but they fall under a wide variety of public municipalities, all with differing requirements for access—a maze of village, town, county, state and federal permits.”

Bottini said he addressed this issue in his Peconic Water Trail proposal back in the 1990s, which listed the various jurisdictions of some key access points and contact numbers to obtain permit requirements. He also wrote about it in his 2005 book, “Exploring East End Waters,” and, as a longtime columnist for The Press, also wrote a column in 2003 about the potential for kayak camping in the area.

“Utilizing county-owned waterfront properties, and perhaps coordinating with state-owned waterfront parcels, a network of launch sites could be created with access and parking permitted under one ‘Suffolk Blueway Trail’ permit,” Bottini suggested. “Another phase of the project could identify sites suitable for water access camping.”

Some of the latter already exist, Bottini said, such as at Shinnecock East, Cedar Point, and Theodore Roosevelt County Parks. Others could be created with minimal “primitive style” facilities, he said, such as an outhouse.

The current map that Suffolk County has with launch locations submitted through June 18 shows that only about a dozen or so have been identified, all on the western side of the county. But a map that Bottini put together for Group for the South Fork—now Group for the East End—that was funded by the National Parks Service Rivers and Trails Program, seems to have done a lot of the work the county is looking for, specifically for the East End.

Bottini said he is willing to share his information and assist in the project.

“A major part of the project should be to educate users about water-related conservation issues with the goal of creating Blueway Trail stewards,” he said.

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