Screaming Kids, Cesspools And A Pond Dies

Some residents who live in the charming homes that surround Little Fresh Pond in North Sea are up in arms about the possibility of a day camp coming to intrude on their little community. Little Fresh Pond is a little secret, a little piece of quiet paradise.

Because of this controversy, I drove up there the other day to look around. Those complaining about the possibility of a day camp there in the summertime say the pond—Little Little Fresh Pond is such a delicate little name—would not survive the arrival of a children’s day camp. It would immediately suffer disastrous pollution. I suspected the pond must be very small. The camp might bring as many as 400 kids to its shores. All that activity, all that splashing and everything would throw the pond into spasms of pollution ruining everything. [expand]

What I found was a grand lake, several hundred acres in size. I took a picture of it, which is in this article. No one seemed to be using it on the day I was there. But on the shores, by the houses, you could see docks and various sailboats that perhaps on weekends were put out on it for sailing and swimming and fishing without making much of a crowd.

I also found signs on telephone poles reading SAVE LITTLE FRESH POND. It seemed to me obvious that the people living here, many of their homes right on the banks of the pond, felt that it was okay they were here, but that was about it. They wanted their peace and quiet. And they didn’t want a bunch of noisy kids ruining everything. What I found, however, was a pond certainly big enough to encompass the children of a summer day camp along with the others who use it. Later, I found out, the day camp doesn’t even intend to use the pond.

The truth is that we need recreational facilities here and there in this community if we are to avoid making this place just a sleepy suburban community of houses. And the fact is that for many years, on a 17.3-acre parcel that has 150 feet of beach on the pond, there was such a camp. It was called New Horizon Camp, a sleepover camp, and during the half century it was there it provided a great service to the families in this community. Nobody at the pond complained about Mr. Kronemeyer’s camp during those years. Those living around the pond were not so many as they are today—oh, look, what a beautiful peaceful spot, we should build here—and they did not mind the camp at all.

What’s being proposed for this heavily wooded site is not a sleepover summer camp for kids of the sort run by the Kronemeyers, but a day camp, where the parents would bring their kids in the morning and pick them up around five. Alternately, busses might pick them up and take them home at the end of the day. Unlike during the New Horizon era, the only folks living at the camp would be a portion of the staff. Furthermore, as I said, the new owners of the campsite are proposing to not even use the pond. They will have swimming pools. They will have, on the site, softball, basketball, arts and crafts, volleyball, an outdoor theatre with singing and performance and the aforementioned swimming—in what could be as many as four swimming pools. They are not proposing to build any new buildings, simply restoring and upgrading the existing buildings. And three of the swimming pools on the place will be placed in an area where there are two pre-existing tennis courts. Two other courts will stay, and three others will be transformed into a softball field. On the site you can see these seven tennis courts side by side—on Google Earth—which were put on the property in the camp’s most recent incarnation, as the Southampton Racquet Club and Camp. This facility, until 2010, offered a place to go for families for the day, the parents to play tennis and the kids to play basketball, arts and crafts and soccer on the grass, under the supervision of a staff. This facility closed after the 2010 season.

I looked for the entrance to this camp. I drove around the pond, and in doing so noticed that there was no evidence on any of the roads that touch the pond of any camp. Indeed, what I did find was that the entrance to the property is on Major’s Path—the club and camp sign is still there—a road a quarter mile on the other side from which you cannot even see the pond. You need to walk down a path to get to the pond.

Seventeen plus acres of property is a very large parcel, everything considered. Although the parcel today was not used last year as a camp, the zoning for it, besides continuing as a summer camp, includes up to 17 smaller lots for a housing development.

Furthermore, the new owners of the former New Horizon Camp—they bought it last year, are in the business of providing summer camps for communities. They have two other camps in the Hamptons, both of which are well run and much appreciated. They have Hamptons Country Day Camp on Buckskill Road in East Hampton (not on a body of water), which consists of 10 acres, but serves 360 happy kids without much complaint of any neighbors. And they have another facility at Scott Rubinstein’s East Hampton Indoor Tennis, where during the summer they rent space on that property to run a teen oriented day camp program. None of these camps has access to either the ocean or bay beaches or any pond.

The purchasers of the old Camp Horizon also have numerous other camps elsewhere too, including one in Glen Cove and three residential camps in New York and Pennsylvania, one of which Jay Jacobs, the executive director of the Timber Lake Family of Camps, directs himself. Jacobs is also a former president of the New York Section of the American Camping Association.

That somebody very successful in this field should buy the rundown facility on Major’s Path and bring it back to its former glory is probably what is the biggest threat to those living on the pond. They are concerned, I believe, because they think he might succeed.

As someone who has raised four kids, who was raised himself across the street from the grammar school he attended, and who has an appreciation of what the camp experience means to kids and their parents, I see the objections to this restoration as just not making any sense.

Read the complaints in their own words in The Southampton Press. “A thousand toilet flushes a day will be sending harmful byproducts into the groundwater during the summer, when the pond is already stressed…. Polluting fertilizers and pesticides used to maintain the camp’s fields will leach into the pond.” (No mention of the thousands of daily toilet flushes in the homes surrounding the pond.)

Or, “The developer wants four swimming pools, including a swimming pool and play area for 120 3-to-5 year olds; this means many pool sessions and playground sessions all day long, only a short distance away from a residential area that previously did not experience that kind of noise and activity.”

Well, yes it did. And yes, it’s true the sounds of children playing might waft across the trees to some people in houses who live nearby. I cannot imagine the noise making it all the way around to the other side of the pond. The part of the property where most of the buildings are, however, is up by Major’s Path near the entrance, quite a distance away from their little finger on the pond. Just look at the tennis courts from the air. And there is plenty of foliage as a buffer. In more than 30 years of living near the Girl Scout Camp further up on Three Mile Harbor Road from where I live, I have never heard even a peep. And if I did—well, I kind of like the sound of children playing.

Have you ever heard of anybody living near a school fleeing the community? People live all around the Springs School, about three miles from where I live. Are they fleeing from around the Tuckahoe School? There’s 400 kids who go to these schools every day, nine months a year (not the three months the camp would be in session.) Never a peep about that.

I have a hard time seeing where the restoration of this old camp would wreak such destruction on this community and on the ecology of this pond.

I think if the camp proposal survives the protests of the local community living around the pond, it will have no new impact whatsoever on anything, and all those who oppose it will soon forget it’s even there. It is embarrassing, in my opinion, to be reading the exaggerations and hysteria that are going on about the restoration of a summer day camp for kids that was there as a sleepover camp not long ago.

The camp needs no zoning variances. All they are doing is renovating existing buildings. As they are within the code, the camp has been approved by the building department.

One interesting thing they will also do is to bring the water systems, septic and fresh water, completely up to date. They will pay to have town water come up the road. (Everybody else can use these pipes too.) And they will build modern septic facilities.

Even if I lived next to this property, I would find it hard to object to something for kids in the summertime that was there before and is just being restored and fixed up. I hope the town allows this project to proceed.

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