Jim Zajac bent down to pick the leaves off a bayberry plant as he looked out over the Montauk shoreline.
Leaves in hand, he gently crushed them and inhaled their fragrance. Even after taking countless hikes through the narrow trails along the East End, Zajac is still surprised by the beauty found along the hundreds of miles of trails in Eastern Long Island.
As president of the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, Zajac and his associates are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of over 200 miles of hiking trails on the East End.
“Today was the first day I was able to come here to Shadmoor State Park,” said Zajack, 52, of Springs. “I saw a habitat that I’ve never seen before.”
On Wednesday morning, Zajac and Eva Moore held one of the group’s weekly hikes in Shadmoor State Park in Montauk. The small group of 6 hikers gathered at the entrance to the park and walked single-file along the narrow 2.5 mile path leading toward Ditch Plains Beach. Along the way, Moore stopped to pick up several discarded pieces of paper, which she carried with her for the remainder of the walk.
Comprised of more than 600 member families, the society was started in 1980 by a group of Long Island equestrians in order to preserve riding trails in the area. The trails preservation society works with the Town of East Hampton to ensure that their trails are safe and clean for hikers, horseback riders and bikers.
“We think the world of them,”said East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione. “They’re an economic asset to the community because they promote tourism and bring visitors out to our community.”
Before each hike, several hike leaders check the trails for deadfall and debris that could impede the hikes and ensure that the paths are clear of debris.
“I was just looking for places to walk, and I found a whole society full of wonderful people,” said Moore, 70, who moved to Montauk in 1998 from Manhattan. “It's been part of the joy of living in Montauk.”
Shadmoor State Park is one of several locations where the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society conducts their weekly hikes. The park features two World War II-era surveillance posts which are part of a network of military bases and outposts along Long Island’s East End. Several native species of Long Island plants also inhabit the area, such as the shade tree, for which the park is named, and an endangered wildflower called the sandplain gerardia.
In 2000, several civic groups, including the Concerned Citizens of Montauk petitioned to save the 99 acre wooded area from construction. With the help of local, state, and federal governments, the town was able to raise the $17.6 million necessary to turn the area into a state park.
Today, the trails preservation society holds two free hikes each week and also works on the reconstruction and maintenance of local landmarks, such as the Pussy’s Pond bridge in Springs. The reconstruction will use locally sourced wood from Long Island trees to rebuild the old bridge near the Springs School, and is scheduled to be completed in the fall.
Last year, the trail preservation society also worked to install a new system of trails in the recently acquired Amsterdam Beach State Park in Montauk.
“It’s a perfect morning,” said Virginia Esposito, 55, of Montauk, who was hiking with the group in Shadmoor Park on Wednesday. “It doesn’t get any better than this in Montauk.”