A state grant for more than $250,000 will help expand and develop new trails in Southold Town that environmental advocates said helps raise awareness of local wildlife.
The town was recently awarded $258,750 in an Empire State Development grant to implement the fifth phase of its "Bay-to-Sound" trail network. The project is $345,000 in total, the rest of which the town will match.
John Sepenoski, a point person on the project who works in the town’s Geographic Information Systems department, told Newsday that some volunteer work on the trails will likely begin in 2022. The town still must get state approval before local officials can put out requests for proposals for any significant work such as on bridges, boardwalks, parking and kiosk areas, Sepenoski said.
In partnership with the Suffolk County Parks Department, Phase 5 of the project — which began in 2007 — will see Southold expanding its 10.5-mile public trail system by 4.2 more miles, providing access to 160 acres of additional open space and creating three extra parking areas for trail access. When Phase 5 is complete, Southold’s public trail system will feature 14.7 miles of trails connecting preserves and parks from Peconic Bay to Long Island Sound.
Environmental groups that have called on New York State to fund the trail project were glad to see Southold awarded the Phase 5 money.
Taralynn Reynolds, outreach director for Bridgehampton-based nonprofit Groups for the East End, said wildlife such as river otters are found at the Pipes Cove and Arshamomaque preserves in Greenport, where trails will be created or connected to existing ones, respectively. With Southold seeing more tourism over time, Reynolds said, it is important to educate the public about local wildlife in those areas via educational signs and programing that will be added during Phase 5.
"We’ve had an increase in day trippers, weekenders and second homeowners, so we want to make sure they understand they’re living in an area with local wildlife and to try to live in harmony with them," Reynolds said. "This is one of the ways we can do it, by supporting public initiatives to preserve open space."
Kevin McDonald, the Long Island policy adviser for the Nature Conservancy in New York, said the nonprofit was "thrilled" the funding has been approved.
"The Bay to Trails program has enhanced the recreational and economic value of Long Island parks," McDonald said in a statement, "transforming former dumping sites for abandoned vehicles into wildlife habitats and scenic vistas that can spark joy and lifelong appreciation for nature in Long Islanders of all ages for generations to come."
Joyce Novak, executive director for the Riverhead-based Peconic Estuary Partnership, said Southold’s trail program is key because it focuses on increasing community awareness of the estuary by allowing people access, in "a low-impact, environmentally friendly way," to some of the North Fork’s ecologically scenic areas.
"It’s a great project that connects preserved properties and really gives the residents access to a really unique ecosystem and habitat on the East End, which is why people live out here," Novak said.
PHASE 5 HIGHLIGHTS
- In the fifth phase of the project, former dump areas at multiple locations will be cleaned up and restored, while wildlife habitats will be restored at several sites. Educational signage will be developed & programs offered. Volunteer opportunities to assist with the trail work and citizen science projects will be offered.
- Phase 5 will also include the installation of 2.3 miles of new trails on 60 acres and a new parking area at Pipes Cove Preserve in Greenport. This is an expansion of the trails created during Phase 2 and that will be created during Phase 3.
- Approximately 1.4 miles of new trails on 75 acres and a new parking area will be installed at Arshamomaque County Park, which will directly connect to the current trails at Arshamomaque Preserve.
- Another 0.5 miles of new trails on 25 acres and a new parking area will be created at Clay Pit County Park, which Suffolk County purchased in 2020 and is linked to both Pipes Cove and Arshamomaque Preserves via State Bike Route 25.
Source: John Sepenoski