It would be easy to pass the entrance to Fort Pond House, if you weren’t looking carefully. Set back on the right side of the winding Second House Road, and coming upon signs for Pathfinder Camp, is a small sign, close to the ground, that announces its existence. Then, dodging potholes, passing some small camp cottages and finally driving through an open gate, one arrives at Fort Pond House. The house shares its site of a little over four acres with Camp Pathfinder on what is called “Little Shepherd’s Neck.”
The house is a plain, small single floor building, seemingly built in the 1940s,with few redeeming features save for one, and that is its setting right on the western shore of Fort Pond. Town Councilman Pete Hammerle informed us that the Town Board voted for its acquisition in September 2002 for $890,000 from the seller, Lee Anna Deadrick. A small amount of money went toward making the building more accessible with a handicapped ramp. According to Ed Johann, president of the Third House Nature Center, it was sold to the town because the previous owner did not want the property to be cut up.
The town wished to preserve the area and explored finding a use for the house. They gave consideration to establishing it as headquarters for a senior center, but the location was not viewed as appropriate for the purpose. A children’s day care center was also considered and rejected because of the problem of liability that comes with young children in a setting so near the pond.
At that time Theodore Roosevelt County Park was undergoing renovations, as it still is, and the Third House Nature Center was displaced from the park. “The organization was lost and homeless,” according to Johann. Carol Morrison, treasurer of the group and Peter Hammerle, town board liason to Montauk, came up with a proposal for the Nature Center to be housed at the Fort Pond House, which was accepted. “It’s a good use for the building,” said the councilman. In October 2005 an open house was held at the site attended by Supervisor Bill McGintee and Mr. Hammerle. “I feel fortunate about the building,” says Ed Johann. “[Supervisor] McGintee and [Councilman] Hammerle deserve a lot of credit.” It is to be noted that the town does not provide money for the many programs held at Fort Pond House.
The Third House Nature Center, whose active board includes: Victoria Bustamente, Stephanie Krusa, School Principal Jack Perna, Patti Lieber, Dick White, and others, has used the house for lectures, walks and nature movies for second through sixth grade students. Jack Perna has been particularly excited about the proximity to the school, and has supported the center’s offering of in-class programs as well as those at Fort Pond House and has facilitated bus transportation for the youngsters in the program to an environmental site.
The Boy Scouts started its meetings right away, and a nature club was initiated fostering collecting and environmental research. Camp Shakespeare has utilized the premises in the summer. It is a not-for profit group that offers 30 children a weekly day camp which has been quite successful.
Carol Morrison emphasizes that the Nature Center is, “not just for kids. It’s for Montauk people getting to know their own environment.” Ed Johann would like to see Fort Pond House in use “five nights a week.” A Brooklyn-born man who is a builder, he was introduced to bird-watching by a high school teacher and has been excited by ornithology since the age of 15. Naturally, he has added a bird-watching course to the programs at Fort Pond House as well as a winter lecture series and films such as “River and Tides,” which has been shown twice. Sara Douglas led a workshop on nature writing for adults, and also conducted a children’s nature writing workshop. A lecture was given on nature and art and Richard Hendrickson, the weather expert, offered a lecture as well. Tom Clavin is currently teaching a course on memoir writing. “If you have an idea for a program which is cultural or environmental and non-commercial, you can use the space,” Mr. Johann says.
Meanwhile Mr. Johann is working to resurrect the history club that was started in 2006 as a roundtable discussion of “living history.” Two Montauk World War II veterans, Gene Beckwith and Ed Orr “had great anecdotes to tell and attracted 30 people to that session last year.”
The spring session for the Nature Center program will begin the end of March and go through June. It is an after-school program on Mondays that is supported by the school. It would seem that the little house on Fort Pond will continue to be buzzing with young and older lives, eager to explore and learn about Montauk’s unique environment. “It’s been a good use for the building,” commented Mr. Hammerle.