Vineyard Fields and Vineyard Woods Forever becomes Save Black Pond and Its Wetlands which becomes Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt!

When I’m asked, “How did Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt get started anyway?” I begin with “First, there was a knock on my front door . . . “ And so it was that one day fifteen years ago Dai Dayton, a neighbor, did in fact knock on my door to tell me that something had to be done right away to keep the fields and woods of the old Bridgehampton Winery from being developed into a golf course. And in a roundabout way, that was the beginning of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt.

The issue at hand was that the company that had purchased the winery from Lyle Greenfield, JOG Associates, had submitted plans to develop a nine-hole golf course and clubhouse, with a residential subdivision for six to eight lots on the wetland-studded fields of the old winery, gouging out sections of the woodland edge for fairway extensions. The low-lying, flood-prone terrain was gloriously ill-suited for a golf course but more importantly, had for decades been on Southampton Town’s list of Long Pond Greenbelt open space properties targeted for preservation. Dai wanted to move quickly to convince the town to fulfill its own stated goal of saving the property to extend the preserved areas of the Long Pond Greenbelt.

We gathered neighbors and environmental activists together and set up an informal citizens’ group, Vineyard Woods and Vineyard Fields Forever. Shortly thereafter, the name was changed to Save Black Pond and Its Wetlands to emphasize the immediate threat a golf course would pose to Black Pond, one of the greenbelt’s rare coastal plains ponds that sits at the edge of the winery property. To galvanize support, public meetings were organized and petitions circulated and presented to the Southampton Town Board.

Letters seeking help and financial support were sent out. Val Schaffner, whose property was later purchased by Southampton’s Community Preservation Fund and whose house is now the Long Pond Greenbelt Nature Center, helped shape the first communications. Grover Gatewood, also a winery neighbor and owner of Iron Horse Graphics, donated graphic design and printing costs. Mike Bottini, then an environmental planner at the Group for the South Fork, threw his considerable talents into promoting a conceptual plan for establishing a wildlife sanctuary and converting the winery buildings into a nature center. After a while, the Southampton Press got behind the idea of preserving the property and in an editorial called plans for an education center on the site the “perfect idea.”

Andy Sabin, of the South Fork Natural History Society (SoFo) made an extremely generous financial pledge toward a preservation fund dedicated to the purchase. (SoFo eventually established its museum in the old winery structures). The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a major greenbelt landowner, also worked to further the purchase. George Guldi, our Suffolk County legislator, carried the ball with the county legislature. At the Southampton Town Board, Councilman Patrick (Skip) Heaney, chair of the town board’s Land Use Committee, envisioned a multi-party partnership involving the town, Suffolk County, TNC, and SoFo. He, along with support from Supervisor Vince Cannuscio and other board members, did successfully bring a coordinated purchase plan to fruition, with the Town of Southampton purchasing the 39 acres of open field and Suffolk County purchasing the surrounding 30 acres of woodland for groundwater recharge. A few years later, the South Fork Natural History Society completed its fabulous conversion of the old winery building into the SoFo Natural History Museum.

Along the way, Save Black Pond had accumulated a modest bank balance that it wanted to donate to Southampton Town toward the purchase. But on the very day of the town board vote to authorize the funding, Councilman Steve Halsey approached Dai and me to thank Save Black Pond for the offer but suggested that since the full purchase price was completely covered with public funds, we might think about using the bank balance to establish a Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt group, as recommended in the draft Long Pond Greenbelt Management Plan.

Well, it was one of those moments. We looked at one another and realized our fate was sealed. It was not long after that Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt had its own bank account and was on its way.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele offered his services pro bono to file for FLPG’s nonprofit incorporation with New York State and John Mahoney, a long-time admirer of the natural wonders of the Long Pond Greenbelt and terrific nature photographer, came forward to serve as FLPG’s first president. (John recently penned a lovely paean to Long Pond that was published in our September 2011 newsletter.)

So many of the people who’d worked to save Vineyard Field and Vineyard Woods went on to form the original board and membership of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt and have continued to be contributors, workers, and supporters ever since. Some have been named here, but many, many others – too numerous to list – are also owed a huge debt of gratitude for their incredible service over these fifteen years. Still, in a way, it did start with a knock on the door.

-Sandra Ferguson, FLPG Vice President