Springs residents who live along the Babes Lane Nature Preserve want to take back the scenic views they once had before brush and non-native plants invaded the area. The preserve, without the debris and heavy vegetation, offers sweeping views of Three Mile Harbor.
After three years of planning, East Hampton Town and the Duck Creek Farm Association have come up with a management plan that would restore the preserve to what it was like when it was part of the original Duck Creek Farm from the late 18th century through the 1950s.
If the Town Board approves the plan and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation issues a permit, Community Preservation Fund money would be allotted to remove the heavy invasive plants that have overgrown the preserve, according to Ira Barocas, president of the Duck Creek Farm Association, which is comprised of Springs residents who live near Three Mile Harbor.
Mr. Barocas approached Town Board members on Thursday night, at a public hearing on the management plan, which was well-received.
The plan would allow non-native vegetation, including oak trees, phragmites, sassafras, sumac and vines, to be cleared from the northeast and southeast portions of the preserve, excluding a 50-foot buffer from the wetland boundaries. Native grasses, including beach heather and other low plants would be left alone. Where the wetlands are concerned, clear cutting would not be allowed. Instead, individual non-native plants would be selectively cut and removed. Dead, dying and topped cedar trees and other native plants may be cut and removed as well, but not without DEC approval. Native grasses would be left alone on the wetlands as well.
If restoration is needed it would have to be carried out by a hired contractor and paid for with CPF money.
Maintenance in general would be carried out by the town’s Land Acquisition and Management or Parks departments. The Duck Creek Farm Association will also be a part of the plan as well, as it is the official adopter of the preserve.
In 2012, the association became the first to adopt a preserve, kickstarting the townwide Adopt-A-Preserve program. Since then, its members have volunteered their time and energy to remove litter, monitor the property and report any potential issues to Town Police or the land acquisition and management department.
The preserve’s largest parcel, 2.7 acres, was acquired in 2003 from Michael Helm and designated as a town nature preserve in July 2004. The 5-acre island to the west and the access strip were purchased from the Keyes family in 2005, with the intention of preserving open space.
In the 10 years since the town’s acquisition of the properties, the preserve has been neglected, according to Mr. Barocas.
“For good reason,” he said. “The town has other preserves to deal with and this was not on the radar. Land maintenance is an expensive proposition and the CPF has a limited amount to put aside for that.”
Mr. Barocas, who lives right next to the preserve, said tending to land has been important to him and his neighbors, especially since it is one of the last pieces of property along Three Mile Harbor that is not in private hands.
“Duck Creek Farm is not gated nor does it have any kind of homeowner dues,” he said on Monday. “The association is an organization basically made up of volunteers, homeowners and friends who want to make sure our part of Springs and Springs in general, and Three Mile Harbor, is a better place and better resource for all of us.”
Squaw Road resident Rachel Levinsohn commented at the board meeting on Thursday, saying that the invasive plants have changed enjoyment of life at her home.
“We bought our house because there was a balance of nature, the marshes, against the water and the boats coming and going—it was really magnificent 30 years ago,” she said. “Now? I see nothing but a lot of invasive vegetation that visited us and stayed. It’s taking over my gardens, and I have six gardens, and it has taken blood, sweat and tears to get rid of it. I urge you to approve this.”
Chris Rowan, who lives on Babes Lane, said walking through the preserve used to be an enjoyable pastime.
“I have been there in summers since 1951, so I remember way back, but in the past few years there has been less foot traffic,” she said. “It used to be well-walked, but there are few walkers now because you don’t see anything anymore but phragmites, bittersweet, trees and bushes. You don’t see the water.”
She said it won’t just be the residents who benefit from the management plan if it is passed, but the community at large who used to take part and enjoy the area.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, the board’s Springs liaison, said she supports the plan and expects it to get board approval shortly.
“I don’t see any reason it wouldn’t pass,” she said. “The people of this area came forth so people could take care of the property I think the way it should be done.”
If the Town Board signs off on the project, under the terms of the State Environmental Quality Review Act, a resolution will be put on the agenda for adoption.