Whether you make your home year-round on the East End, or if you’re one of the lucky ones “in the know”—that fall is by far the ideal time to be on the East End—take advantage of this great weather. Don’t stay inside your home—get out there and explore the East End’s many rewarding hikes.
If you’re in Sag Harbor celebrating Harborfest this weekend, check out the positively prehistoric Long Pond Greenbelt—more than 1,100 acres of interconnected ponds, woods and wetlands that stretch nine miles from Otter Pond in Sag Harbor to Sagg Pond and the Atlantic Ocean in Sagaponack. The landscape, like most of Long Island, was created over 20,000 years ago by glacial advance and retreat and the resulting ice formation and melting. At that time, it is believed, humans had yet to make it north of Southern France.
Today the Greenbelt is one of the most ecologically significant areas in New York, having the highest concentration of rare plants and animals in the state. More than 35 rare plant species and more than 125 different bird species, many of which depend on the specific wetland complex they live in, have been identified. And that’s not nearly all. Aside from what you might see in your own backyard, you might catch a glimpse of long-tailed weasels, Norway rats, muskrats, bats, hawks, owls, various warbler species, the occasional bald eagle, turtles, snakes, frogs and more. Oh, and ticks. It’s important that after hiking through such wooded areas, you check yourselves and your dogs for ticks—even in the fall.
Situated within the Greenbelt complex are 13 coastal plain ponds, a rare type of pond vulnerable to extinction. The ponds in the complex are not stream-fed. Instead they are fed directly by ground water and their levels rise and fall with the water table. Perhaps the best example of these ponds is Crooked Pond with its high water quality; 75% of its shoreline is undeveloped. Its “crooked” shape creates a number of micro-habitats allowing for remarkable ecological diversity. Notably, Crooked Pond is also home to a portion of Truman Capote’s ashes, which were scattered there in 1994.
As for trails, there are several. The main trail—the wide, sandy old railroad bed—runs through the center of the Greenbelt from Poxabogue Pond to Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor. And it was, in fact, at one time a railroad right-of-way—between 1870 and 1939 there was a railway connection between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor. The track was pulled up to supply steel for the war effort. This is a useful trail, but not the most pleasant. A network of trails—some are colonial roadbeds—crisscross the railroad spur for more enjoyable, wooded hikes, many leading to those coastal plain ponds.
About those ponds: Check out the aptly named Long Pond, which can also be seen from the Sag Harbor–Bridgehampton Turnpike, or if you’re enjoying breakfast at Estia’s Little Kitchen. Poxabogue can be seen from Sagg Road or up close at Poxabogue County Park. Round Pond can be seen farther north from Sagg Road, and apparently snorkeling can be fun there, if that’s what you’re into.
There are a few things you absolutely cannot do in the Greenbelt. All-terrain vehicles, including quads, motorbikes and dirt bikes, are prohibited, as are gas-powered engines on any of the ponds. Mountain biking is also not allowed. The Greenbelt is reserved specifically for foot traffic. You’ll be thankful for the restrictions once you’re there. You should also not feed the animals, as it could be dangerous to them and to you.
So bring a field guide, binoculars, camera, and a map or cell phone with GPS—and get lost, while not getting lost, in the woods.
For more information visit longpondgreenbelt.org and southamptontrails.org.