Montauk Life

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THE PARKS OF MONTAUK

On a sunny October afternoon last year, a gathering of State, County and local authorities presided over the opening of the newest addition to the extensive park system on Montauk. Shadmoor State Park, a 99 acre ocean front tract of bluffs, endangered species, and panoramic views would forever be open to the public. It wasn't cheap, a price tag of $17,000,000 was required. Added to the extensive collection of State, County and local parks and reserves, Shadmoor brings the total amount of Montauk allocated for perpetual public use to nearly 60%. Open to all, our collection of open space offers almost unlimited outdoor recreation.

As mush as our modern day politicians have contributed to the East End's park system, it's fair to say that there might not be an acre of State park land on Long Island, without Robert Moses. One of a legion of turn of the century New York reformers, he pioneered the development of open space for inner city dwellers. Faced with supplying New York City's exploding population - 4,800,000 in 1910 to 5,600,000 in 1920 - with open space, Moses began to look beyond the city limits for park lands. No where was this more available than on then scarcely populated, rural Long Island. With only 250,000 people spread over 1400 square miles, blessed with beautiful ocean and bay beaches, within a short drive from urban New York, Moses envisioned ribbons of public beaches filled with the harried crowd.

Popular as they might be with the general public, parks were anathema to the great concentration of newly minted moguls of Western Long Island. Towering industrialists such as JP Morgan, Henry Clay Frick, Payne Whitney, William Vanderbilt and dozens more plutocrats had staked out huge estates throughout western Long Island, along its bay and ocean beaches. They had no intent whatever of allowing the unwashed city masses breathing space amongst their rolling hills and beaches. As JP Morgan dryly noted - "I owe the public nothing!"

With the majority of local politicians supporting them, Morgan and his gang dug in their corporate heels for a fierce fight. Fortunately for the public, Moses was more than a match. Wielding the sledgehammer of state condemnation backed by overwhelming public opinion he seized and appropriated land as he saw fit. Taken to court he wore out his opposition, until he had what he wanted - a string of 17 State parks with a total of some 40,000 acres that are the prize jewels of New York - Jones Beach, Sunken Meadow, Heckscher, Captree, Connetque, Bayard Arboretum, Caumsett, Wildwood, Gilgo and more.

Moses' vision for public parks was not confined to western Long Island. He had traveled the length of Long Island scouting suitable spots for public access. When he arrived here in Montauk in the Fall of 1923, Moses described it as " ......the irregular shore line and a number of small islands form a veritable patchwork of smaller peninsulas, straights and bays which afford many miles of beaches, dunes and varied waters for cruising, fishing, swimming, golfing and other forms of recreation." Remote as it may have been, Moses had to have a piece of Montauk to complete his park system.

Economics, not politics, was Moses primary opponent on the East End. The early 1920's saw a speculative boom in land prices that threatened to push the cost of park land beyond the State's means. As with everything in life, timing is crucial. In the same Fall that Moses had discovered Montauk, so had Carl Fisher. One of the greatest speculators and promoters of his day, Fisher had just finished Miami Beach, and was on the prowl for a northern project to complement his southern. "Miami Beach in Winter, Montauk in Summer", became his motto, and he began laying plans for his vision of a luxury resort here to complement Miami. To create his luxury resort he needed every square acre of Montauk. Needless to say, his vision of Montauk had no place for public parks.

Local sentiment was cautious at best. The East Hampton Star's editorial that week - " nearly everyone is against it. They argue that it will bring an undesirable class of people to Montauk. The gathering of the many different fruits which abound in Montauk will become a thing of the past. The land will be laid waste and barren by the hordes of autoists let loose from the city." Not exactly hanging out the welcome sign, eh?

Racing against Fisher and a horde of speculators that followed him, on August 8, 1924 Moses announced plans to condemn 1700 Montauk acres belonging to the Benson estate for State Parks. The Benson heirs first protested, and then litigated their claims in State court. By March 1926 when the suit was first heard, Benson claimed their Montauk lands should have been valued at $880.00 per acre, a far cry from the $ 75.00 the State authorized in 1924. They also alleged that Moses had threatened Benson's representatives. According to Benson's attorney, Moses had told him that - "he'll show those millionaires! He had just planted a park at Southampton, and he'd them at Montauk. He ( Moses ) told me that if the Benson estate wouldn't accede to his demands, he would spot their property with small parks in such a way that no one would ever buy any of the remaining property." Tough talk indeed.

Naturally, Moses denied all charges. He had made what he felt was a fair offer, and proceeded as the law allowed. The case took over 3 years to run its course. Moses was sustained in the Supreme Court of New York, and upheld in the Appellate and Court of Appeals. Finally on May 3, 1929 Judge Henry Humphrey denied the last appeal of the Benson's heirs. Montauk's Park would forever remain State land.

Moses work yielded us Hither Hills State Park, and Montauk State Park. It would be comforting to report that these jewels were created in a cooperative public and private concern for the public. The record shows that was far from the case. Every acre had to be ripped from the hands of speculators and special interests. Lucky for the public, Moses was as ruthless and single minded as any enemy. He used every resource at his disposal to achieve his vision of public parks.

More importantly, time has proved Moses vision right and his enemy's dead wrong. Our system of pubic parks have become a treasure not only for the visitors who use them, but for local residents. They are a guarantee that every citizen has a right to his day on the beach.

Today's visitor can choose from 6 of the finest public spaces on Long Island:

HITHER HILLS STATE PARK

The largest State park in Montauk, this 1755 acre site stretches from ocean to bay, and offers the most extensive recreational facilities of all Montauk parks. Central to this is the 165 camping/RV site that overlooks the Park's 2000' ocean front. Available from April 13 - Nov 17, it offers campers electric/water hook-ups, an extensive camp store, bath houses with hot showers, and a host of recreational facilities. You'll find protected ocean bathing, playgrounds, ball field, 10 acre scenic picnic area with fireplaces, horseshoe courts, volleyball, extensive bridle and hiking paths.

Camping reservations can be made through www.reserveamerica.com/usa/ny/hith. Rates for 2001 are $ 16.00 per day. From June 1 - mid-September only 7 day stays are accepted. At all other times 3 - 14 day blocks can be reserved.

Fishing is available both salt and fresh - along the beach surfcasting or at Fresh Pond, a 40 acre gem located in the Northern sector of the Park. No permit for salt but one is required for fresh. The park is open year round, and those not camping can pay the $ 7.00 daily parking fee and make use of all the same recreational facilities as campers.

Unique to Hither Hills is the Walking Dunes. Located along the northern bay front, a band of 100 foot sand dunes have formed, that literally walk across the bay front in a west to east direction. As they slowly blow across the landscape the first bury the surrounding trees, only to reveal the mummified remains years later as they retreat. Access can be found by taking the Montauk Highway west through Hither Woods, and taking the first right after Cyril's at the Hither Hills Racquet Club. Cross the rail road tracks and follow the road to its end. There you'll find the main trail which leads to the base of these amazing natural features. 631-668-2461

MONTAUK STATE PARK

The 724 acres at the very tip of the Montauk Peninsula contains both the venerable Montauk Lighthouse as well as an impressive system of trails, fresh water ponds, and miles of rocky beaches. The Lighthouse itself is one of our favorite attractions, its extensive collection of exhibits and photographs open to the public year round. Top off your visit with a climb to the summit of the 89' tall Lighthouse for an unforgettable view of sky and water. In season visitors can also picnic at outdoor waterview tables, or lunch in-doors at the snack shop/gift shop. Parking is only $ 5.00, and admission to the Lighthouse $ 4.00 for adults, $3.50 for seniors and $ 2.50 for kids. 631-668-3781

In season serious surfcasters head to the Point for the biggest striped bass and blue fish around. No permits are required, but remember to temper your competitive spirit with a touch of cooperation with your fellow anglers. The shoreline can get crowded at times, so be sure to leave a little elbow room for the next fellow.

You'll also find an extensive system of nature trails to hike or cross country ski. In the depths of winter you might even spy a visiting harbor seal sunning itself on the rocky shoreline.

MONTAUK DOWNS STATE PARK GOLF COURSE

Considered one of the most challenging public courses on the Island, this 18 hole, 6500 Yard Robert Trent Jones Jr treat is complete with pro shop, driving range and practice green. Drop the family off while you enjoy the course. They can use the Olympic sized pool, tennis courts, restaurant, lounge and club house.

Open year round, green fees are $ 30.00 weekdays, $ 36.00 weekends, and reservations are highly recommended - 631-668-1234. Both push carts and motorized carts are available for rental. The use of the pool will set you back a cool $ 3.00 for adults and a minor $ 1.00 for the kids. An hour on the tennis courts sets you back a reasonable $ 12.00. 631-668-5000

THEODORE ROOSEVELT COUNTY PARK

Formerly known as Montauk County Park, this 1059 acre park has a rich history. Site of the first cattle ranch in America - Deep Hollow Ranch circa 1658 - the Park continues its long tradition of raising angus beef and horses for hire. Trail rides through their extensive trail system leading to the bay are a favorite. 631-668-2744

In 1898, Theodore Roosevelt used Third House as his HQ while he and his Rough Riders stayed in Montauk for their de-contamination period following the end of the Spanish-American War. Originally built in the 1700's, Third House is now a museum and gift shop with an excellent collection of vintage memorabilia and photographs.

Camping on the beach for 4 wheel drive vehicles is available at the Outer Beach camp site, on East Lake Drive. You'll need a Suffolk County Permit ( $ 75.00 for Suffolk residents, $ 200.00 for non-residents) and a nightly fee of $ 12.00 for residents, $ 20.00 non-residents. For reservations call 631-852-7879

Salt water fishing can be done along the Park's bay and sound front beaches. Fresh water fishing is available at either Big Reed Pond or Oyster Pond. As with all Country Parks you must have a Suffolk Country Green Card, and NY State Fishing License. Call for more info 631-852-7878

HITHER WOODS

Made up of the central section of Hither Hills State Park, Hither Woods Preserve and the Lee Koppleman Nature Preserve, this 3,000 acre stretch of woodland cover the central core of the Montauk peninsula. Interlaced with the most extensive hiking and biking trails in the area it offers novices and experiences walker/bikers a lifetime of extra curricula thrills. Open to the public year round, with no permit or fee required, always remember to bring a good trail map with you. Fortunately, you can find a variety of them on Main Street at the Montauk Bike Shop.

Organized tours of Hither Woods are offered by the same Montauk Bike Shop and the East Hampton Trails Assoc - 631-329-4227

KIRK PARK

Located next to the Village IGA on Main Street, this town park runs the Atlantic to the shores of Fort Pond. In season it offers protected ocean swimming, with ample parking in its $ 10.00 per day lot. Across Main Street you'll find the Second House Museum, a thoroughly restored 17th century cattle keepers homes, housing a rare collection of Montauk historical items and memorabilia. Surrounding that is a rustic park with picnic area, and lush grounds along the shores of placid Fort Pond.

ROBERT MOSES (1888 - 1972)

Aristocratic, autocratic, domineering, brilliant, spiteful Moses was the most powerful man in New York politics during the 20th century. For over 50 years he reigned first as head of the Long Island State Park Commission, then New York State Park Commission, and latter simultaneously New York City Park Commission, City Construction Coordinator and member of the City Planning Commission. Moses oversaw some of the most massive public works projects in US history. His list of accomplishments include the Triborough, Verrazzaro Narrows, Throgs Neck, Cross Bay and Bronx-Whitestone Bridges. To connect these he built the Cross Bronx Expressway, Major Deegan, Bruckner Expressway, Gowanus Expressway, Whitestone Expressway, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Clearview, Sheridian, the Harlem River Drive and West Side Highway. His most prominent public building include Lincoln Center, the old New York Coliseum, the United Nations complex, Shea Stadium, the 1964 New York World's Fair, Co-Op City, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Villages. Add to that hundreds of thousands of New York City public housing units, dozens of City parks filled with tennis courts, swimming pools, baseball diamonds and you just begin to understand the immense influence he had on New York City.

But it was on Long Island, that Moses first made his mark with the establishment of the New York State Park system.

 


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