Land Trust Report Spring 2023

by Bob Miller

There have been major developments in terms of land preservation and the expansion of our sanctuaries since the Land Trust report in the Spring of 2022.

In December 2022, the Land Trust received a donation of a 2.07 acre lot on Brooks Point from the family of Chris and Roddy Roosevelt. The lot is near other Land Trust properties donated by the Gaumond and Kuijpers families and expands a corridor of undisturbed habitat along Brooks Point Road.

In January 2023, contracts were signed for the acquisition of a 15.58 acre parcel of undeveloped land on the north side of the main road opposite the entrance to Chocomount Beach (the “Chocomount parcel”). Essentially, the Museum agreed to purchase the parcel from FIDCO, and the Town of Southold agreed to contribute $925,000 towards the purchase from its “Community Development Fund,” which contains taxes levied on the sale of real estate. In exchange for its contribution, the Town will receive a conservation easement ensuring that the property will remain in its natural state. FIDCO also agreed to donate, upon the closing of the acquisition of the Chocomount parcel, a separate tract of 5.4 acres contiguous to our sanctuaries on Middle Farms – just to the east of the osprey nest videocam (the “Osprey Nest parcel”).

Please refer to the map below showing existing Land Trust properties in the mid-Island area, the Roosevelt parcel (marked 1), and the two FIDCO properties (marked 2 and 3). The new acquisitions are striking not only for their size, but also for the way they fit with the other protected land in this part of the Island. Preservation of these contiguous areas in such an ecologically diverse and sensitive area magnifies their environmental importance.

Discussions leading to these agreements were exceptionally challenging and time-consuming. The Town’s protocols for providing funds for land conservation are detailed and strict. FIDCO had concerns about utility access that were difficult to address under the Town’s protocols. These issues were ultimately resolved, and as of this writing the only matters to be addressed are those of due diligence required for the release of Community Development Fund money by the Town – particularly a survey. We hope that a closing can take place by the end of June.

In addition to the Town funding, the following individuals and foundations made substantial pledges to the Museum to enable us to acquire these properties (in alphabetical order):

Elena and John Brim
W. L. Lyons Brown, Jr. Charitable Foundation
Mary and Brad Burnham
Brad Collins
Fiddlehead Fund
Mark and Louise Gaumond
Roelfien and Arthur Kuijpers
McCance Foundation
John McGillian
Elizabeth and Richard Miller
Sam and Anne Polk
Fred and Sally Wakeman

Map of mid-Island section of Fishers Island with Land Trust properties shaded in light grey. Three new acquisitions are numbered 1, 2, and 3, and the Town parcel is marked T. These parcels are detailed in this report.

The Town has become an important partner with the Museum in the preservation of environmentally sensitive land on Fishers Island. In 2019, facilitated by the Museum, the Town acquired a 5.33 acre lot between the Main Road and Middle Farms Pond and granted to the Museum a long-term stewardship license over the property (marked T on map). This parcel provided a significant connection between our sanctuaries on Middle Farms and other protected land to the east. The existence of this large stretch of contiguous environmentally important land was an important factor in the Town’s determination to provide funds for the purchase of the Chocomount parcel.

The decision by FIDCO to transfer the Chocomount parcel for preservation and to donate the Osprey Nest parcel also further evidences FIDCO’s extraordinary commitment to conservation on the Island. FIDCO has donated over 130 acres to the Land Trust. It is by far the largest contributor of land for sanctuary areas. FIDCO’s donation of the Osprey Nest parcel will provide the “bridge” connecting our sanctuaries in the critical mid-Island area.

It is important to note that these three new parcels contain seven building sites identified on the June 1926 Olmsted Plan for development of the East End, which has been accepted as a de facto subdivision plan by the Town of Southold and Suffolk County. So, in addition to the huge benefit to the environment from these acquisitions, there will be seven fewer potential houses to be built – and to impact our viewsheds, roads, utilities, and other resources. Fishers Island’s wellfield is within the sanctuary area, and a hydrologic study indicated that an important portion of our watershed area is within the Chocomount and Osprey Nest parcels.

The Museum in 1981 included in its mission statement the preservation in perpetuity of undeveloped property in its natural state. Since then, there have been more than 80 separate transactions resulting in the preservation and protection of 352.62 acres throughout the Island (including the Roosevelt parcel). The acquisition of the two FIDCO parcels will bring this total to almost 375 acres. It seems inevitable that the pace of land preservation must slow, and that the focus of the Land Trust will increasingly be on the management and stewardship of the properties for which we are responsible. But this seems an opportunity to recognize and appreciate the many who have donated land (see adjoining list), or financial support, or time and talent to make possible this progress in protecting the Island’s environmental assets and natural beauty.

To briefly touch upon stewardship matters, the paths through the grassland at Middle Farms are the most consistently used of the more than 12 miles of trails we maintain. Scientists of the New York Natural Heritage Program recommended that the number of these paths be reduced to prevent fragmentation of this important habitat. In addition, to facilitate the controlled burning of the grassland, the Fire Department requested that we modify and enlarge fire breaks. We are therefore both reconfiguring and reducing the number of paths, and you will see “Trail Resting” signs in the area this season. However, paths traversing the center of the grassland will be maintained, with connections to “Penni’s Path” on the west and parking area on the east, as well as perimeter paths, including the popular one along Beach Pond that connects to the trails in the Charles B. Ferguson Wildlife Sanctuary.

Also, we are conscious of the need to enhance access to the Land Trust sanctuaries. Our stewardship coordinator Jack Schneider has worked with the Fishers Island School and Race Rock Garden Company to create a handicapped-accessible overlook at the east end of Middle Farms Pond that we hope will be enjoyed by all (see photo below).

We hope you will enjoy the sanctuaries this season.

Handicapped-accessible ramp under construction at head of Treasure Pond Trail overlooking Middle Farms Pond. Photo by Bob Miller.