For as long as anyone can remember, Montauk residents seeking a sanctuary from the crowds that swarm onto public beaches in season have snuck over to a tiny sliver of sand on the shore of Lake Montauk. The warm, shallow water, soft lake sand and lack of crowds make the beach a respite for weary locals.
For 26 years, the participants in the R.J. Aaron Mighty Montauk Triathlon have also used the beach off West Lake Drive as the staging point for the 1-mile swim portion of their endurance test.
But unlike the other beaches, the shores of Lake Montauk are not owned by the Town Trustees and last fall the popular getaway was purchased by a wealthy landowner, Peter Kalikow. Last month, a stretch of snow fence suddenly appeared, cutting off access to the shoreline.
Not surprisingly many of the people who have long used the beach are upset.
“People are really crazy over this,” said Julie Evans-Brumm, who works at a motel near the beach. “It was a very quiet little cove where little kids could swim. There’s no jellyfish and no waves, and people get away from the summer crowds and find some quiet. People are really upset.”
The beach, and much of the land surrounding it, are now owned by Mr. Kalikow, a wealthy real estate investor, former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and one-time owner of the New York Post newspaper. Mr. Kalikow has owned a house and property adjacent to the stretch of beach since the 1980s, but purchased the portion of the beach and the roadside land that leads to it only in the fall of 2007.
The snow fence started going up about two weeks ago, Ms. Evans-Brumm said “and it’s getting longer and longer and longer.” Ms. Evans-Brumm said that had people known it was private property that could be acquired and blocked off they would have called for the town to purchase it with Community Preservation Fund money a long time ago.
A call to Mr. Kalikow’s office in New York City was not returned.
Ms. Evans-Brumm said a group of residents will be attending the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Monday, May 5, to discuss the options for addressing the fencing off of the beach.
East Hampton Town Trustees clerk Diane McNally said that portions of the shoreline and underwater lands in Lake Montauk are privately owned instead of public like other shorelines.
Merle Aaron, whose late husband, Robert, started the Mighty Montauk Triathlon in 1982, said that the event has always used Lake Montauk for its swim because there is no boat traffic for swimmers to be concerned with. The beach was the in-and-out point for the swim, and the more than 600 athletes who participate each year only had to cross narrow Star Island Road to a town-owned parcel that is the staging for the bicycle and running portions of the race.
“I’m out asking about some different areas that we might use,” Ms. Aaron, director of the triathlon and owner of the Harborside Motel, across the street from the beach, said. “We’re hoping Mr. Kalikow will come around and allow us to use it again—at least this year, since we’ve got lot of things planned already. I’ve got 500 people signed up and they’re expecting a triathlon, so we have to have some place for them to swim.”