There's a slight drizzle, but a small and hardy group that has gathered to walk the 2-mile trail from behind the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center in Bridgehampton to Sagaponack's Poxabogue County Park is up for it.
By the time the guide has the walkers put their names on the sign-up sheet, the rain stops, slickers come off and they are on their way.
Soon enough, Southampton resident Susan Colledge, a Southampton Trails Preservation Society volunteer who is along for the walk, identifies the sounds of a woodpecker.
"Birders love this field," says guide Dai Dayton, president of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt.
THROUGH THE WOODS
The walk goes from open fields through woodlands, onto public roads and then back in the woods and past the serene Poxabogue Pond, before it loops back. Along the way, Dayton identifies various plants and shrubs, including an aromatic bayberry bush. The walkers crush a few tiny berries to release its scent.
Among the sights is a black locust tree with wild grape and bittersweet vines spiraling around it. A tree felled during superstorm Sandy blocks part of the path, but the walkers just duck under its massive trunk.
The area opens up onto a sandy spot where lichen forms.
"It's a good place to see tracks," says Dayton, signs of the many animals that call the forest home.
Other plants are also identified; the invasive and nonnative plants such as autumn olive, garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed and mile-a-minute weed. Dayton gives a lesson in why these species can be so damaging to the environment, mostly by choking out native plants. In fact, she tells the group, Southampton Town rented Nubian dairy goats from upstate to chomp down the invasive plants.
The group stops to gaze at a fox den built under an exposed tree root, marveling at its engineering.
The walk is at a moderate pace, but nobody seems to mind waiting for the slower ones in the group. It's part of the walking community, they say.
"It's about being outdoors with nature," says Harry Hackett, 72, of Southampton, who is there with his wife, Barbara. "We really lose touch with nature, and yet the thing I see, not enough people are taking advantage of it."
WALKING HAMLET TO HAMLET
The trails have been easy to transverse and open to the public for some time, but the Southampton Preservation Society, which maintains 300 miles of trails in the region, recently decided to mark the paths in a plan inspired by the English system of hamlet-to-hamlet walking. In England, Colledge explains, walkers and hikers have a right to pass on any footpath, whether on public or private lands that are considered part of a trail. Here, hikers use public lands, but the group liked the idea of marking the way so anyone can use the trails, with a guide or not.
Following lime green guide markers (called blazes) nailed to trees on the right side of the path, people can walk on their own on the "Hamlet-to-Hamlet Footpath" trails, which recently opened two separate legs: a 3.5 mile path from Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor to Lumber Lane in Bridgehampton, and a second trail from the Park to Trout Pond in Noyack.
Other extensions will open soon, say organizers, and guided tours will continue, courtesy of the group of volunteers inspired by the beauty of the land.
Keeping the trails open and usable for the public is a labor of love. Every Thursday, Colledge is joined by others to clear the patch with mowers, clippers and axes.
"I entice them with my homemade brownies," Colledge says with a smile. And they are always looking for help.
SOUTHAMPTON TRAILS PRESERVATIONS SOCIETY WALKS
WHEN | WHERE Various times, starting points and distances from Sag Harbor to Sagaponack, every Saturday and Sunday, year-round. Dress for the weather and wear tick repellent. Check with guide leader listed with each walk for cancellations.