Between the playground and soccer fields behind Springs School, a gate opens to a heavily wooded trail—so heavily wooded that, several steps in, one must start beating back the bushes and leaping over brush to advance any farther.
Leaves crunching underfoot at dismissal time on Friday, Principal Eric Casale, a pencil tucked behind his ear and a walkie-talkie in hand, showed where the trail virtually ends in a tangle of vegetation. This part of the path nearest the school, he explained, is currently used only by science classes.
But an effort is in the works to spruce the path up, allowing students and parents to walk or bike to school under its shaded boughs, rather than on the streets.
The Springs community, according to School Board President Liz Mendelman, is rallying together to connect the hamlet’s neighborhoods and allow residents to safely bike or walk to any destination, the school included.
The effort at Springs School is twofold, said Zach Cohen, the acting chairman of the East Hampton Town Bicycle Committee, chairman of the town’s Nature Preserve Committee and a serious mountain biker and former racing cyclist who is helping spearhead the plan.
One aspect is on-road, adding shoulders of a “reasonable and consistent” size, at least 3 feet wide, on Springs-Fireplace Road from Ashawagh Hall north to Underwood Drive, for about 4,500 feet.
“I think of it as Safe Routes to School, phase two,” Mr. Cohen said, referring to a $554,310 grant the school won earlier this year to add sidewalks, traffic control devices and other safety features along routes leading to the school. But that grant focuses on roads to the south, he said.
The other aspect is off-road and would involve at least part of the trail, which leads to the Lassaw Nature Preserve, as well as several streets on which schoolchildren live. Some of these children live too close to school to qualify for bus transportation, he said, but if they had a safe path, they could not only walk or bike, but, in many cases, take a more direct path.
Mr. Cohen, who is expected to present his ideas to the Parent Teacher Association and School Board soon, proposes using a packed stone dust as a trail material, which, he says, will look “pretty natural,” but will be less tick-friendly and more bike-friendly than grass. This material already lines paths in the East Hampton Village Nature Trail by Duck Pond, he said.
One item under discussion is whether to use just the existing trail or to add a supplemental trail.
“The more trails you put it, the more some people like it,” he said, “But the more it fragments the ecology.”
Ms. Mendelman praised the idea.
“I think the work that is spearheaded by Zach Cohen, with credit to others, to create ‘natural pathways’ by using existing trails and roadways to the ‘heart of Springs’ is brilliant and speaks to how we value our rural roots,” she wrote in an email this week. “How amazing would it be to step out your door for a stroll or ride on a beautifully preserved nature trail or connecting roadway to Pussy’s Pond or the blacksmith shop or another one of the many beautiful places in Springs?” she wrote.
Many parents surveyed as part of the Safe Routes to School program, she said, were reluctant to allow their children to walk or bike to school because of “hazardous conditions,” she said, adding that traffic and unsafe crossings topped the list of hazards.
According to Mr. Casale, as he walked by a line of cars snaking by the school to pick up children on Friday, only about 10 to 12 of the more than 700 students bike to school. More than 400 students take the bus, and about 275 either get picked up or walk.
Because the idea is still forming, the costs are yet to be determined, but Mr. Cohen said that the school and the town might get grants to subsidize most, if not all, the expense. Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, the Springs liaison, last week suggested the town budget $500,000 for improvements related to bike routes in town.
Mr. Cohen said he would like to have this idea in a package to present to the Town Board by the end of November.
In this most densely populated part of East Hampton Town, which saw one of its own residents, a 14-year-old girl and Springs School student, Anna Mirabai Lytton, die in June after she was struck by an SUV while riding a bicycle in East Hampton Village, a recent townwide effort to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety has particular resonance.
School Board Vice President John Grant said that he is in favor of contributing to improving pedestrian and bicycle safety and that the idea goes hand-in-hand with the Safe Routes to School grant, although he has not seen the specifics of the new plan yet.
“Our community will be healthier when more of us walk or bike instead of getting into our cars!” wrote Ms. Mendelman.