Down the Rabbit Hole: How Sag Harbor’s New Park Site Was “Discovered”

John Steinbeck Waterfront Park plan for Sag Harbor
John Steinbeck Waterfront Park plan for Sag Harbor, Courtesy Edmund Hollander

Ten years ago, somebody told me that if you walked west from Long Wharf along the shoreline of Sag Harbor’s outer bay but didn’t stop where the concrete abutment under the bridge to North Haven appears to be blocking your way, you would come through some foliage to a beautiful, curving beach that nobody knows about.

“There’s a footpath on the abutment itself. It takes you under the bridge and out into sunshine on the other side. It’s a whole other world on the other side. Nobody knows of it.”

It was right before sunset when I tried it. It was exactly as he said it was. Dark under the bridge. Then the sunset shining on an uninhabited but beautiful 200-yard curving beach. It felt like the beginning of Alice in Wonderland where Alice goes down the rabbit hole.

Here I was, just a hundred yards of thick foliage, flies and sticker bushes away from the Chinese takeout, the 7-Eleven and the Post Office, and I was looking at a sandy beach worthy of the best summer resort in America.

I have lived here 60 years and never knew to go around the bend of the bridge abutment. Nobody else seemed to have done it either. Until now.

The discovery of this little paradise had come about, many people said, as the result of a walk taken by landscape architect Edmund Hollander, who had wondered what would happen if you could get over to the other side of the bridge. Figuring it out, he then drew an aerial view of what he had found. It seemed to be landlocked. No way to get to it except to walk on the abutment under the bridge.

I was amazed at this. The Village had already built an artificial 30-yard sandy area just to the west of Long Wharf, where people could sit on park benches and look out at the outer harbor. Now, you could take this walk, just steps away to the abutment, and here was a natural but unknown beach 10 times the size of the other one, facing the inner harbor.

Who owned it? It turned out that the Village owned the beach part. But abutting it was a hodgepodge of lots owned by others, who, because the whole thing was landlocked, had never been able to do anything with it either.

Last week, which is almost 10 years later, Southampton Town, with Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, announced that papers have been signed and that for $10.5 million, the townspeople have bought almost the whole property, and after the land is cleared, this new park will be available to them. It is to be called the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, in honor of one of Sag Harbor’s famous citizens.

After wrestling for years with the property owners who had formed a corporation and wanted 13 condominiums on this property, the village was finally able to turn to a wealthy private citizen named Jay Bialsky of Sagaponack. In April, he bought out the property owners for an undisclosed amount, then negotiated with the Village and the Town, and got the deal done. He will be happy with just three condominium units rather than the earlier 13.

If the prior plans are used, the park’s main feature would be the beach. Set behind it will be a bandshell with curved seating around it where performers could act and play as the sun sets over the inner harbor. There also will be a small dock.

“This is a story with a happy ending,” the Southampton Town Supervisor told The Sag Harbor Express, which broke this story.

Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder sent out a press release. “We are thrilled beyond words. This acquisition will transform the last remaining open space on the harbor into a world-class park that will be a serene, peaceful setting for our residents and visitors to enjoy one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.”

How soon will it happen? Now that the property is in the hands of the Village, the state and the federal government can be approached to help pay the estimated $3.5 million expense to build this facility.

Questions do remain. The property is still landlocked from auto traffic. How do we get to it, except by going around the path on the abutment and under the bridge? Well, that’s a pretty neat way of doing it, even if there is no other way.

As a matter of fact, there is nothing to prevent you from parking down near Long Wharf and the outer harbor, walking onto the artificial beach there to the west and taking the path under the bridge and down the rabbit hole this weekend. See it for yourself.

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