Long Island Trail Lovers Coalition

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Bridgehampton / Sag Harbor

SOFO Nature Trail

 


Last Thursday I received two invitations to help work on the grasslands restoration behind the South Fork Natural History Museum (SOFO).  One invitation was from the Trail Maintenance Crew of the Southampton Trail Preservation Society (Ken Bieger 283-5432), and the other was from Dai Dayton of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt.  I was asked to park in the SOFO parking lot on the east side of the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike, a little less than a mile north of Montauk Highway.  The land behind the museum has been cultivated for the last 200 years.  Most recently, it was a vineyard. Now the totally refurbished modern building houses the SOFO Museum.

Southampton Town bought the vineyard field with dollars from the Open Space Fund adding it to the 600 acres of preserved land in the Long Pond Greenbelt.  The Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt (FLPG) is leading an initiative to remove the invasive species there and restore it to grassland.  Autumn Olive and Japanese Knotweed now overrun the field.  Throughout the island the old fields have, for the most part, either been built on or have matured into woodlands.  That is why FLPG is working to create and maintain a grassland habitat for the animals that depend on it.  One of the creatures endangered by the loss of this habitat is the New York State’s own bird, the Eastern Bluebird.  Pointing to the 10 acres that have been cleared so far, Dai said “we will need volunteers in the spring to keep the invasives from coming back.”  Dai asks that volunteers call her at (631) 537-0660.

The museum has been open for about a year and a half now and I’ve been curious to see the inside of the building.  I was one hour late for the work outing (bottle-neck traffic in  Southampton) which was just too late, so I went into the museum to say hello to SOFO’s Executive Director, Jim Ash.

When I entered the building, I was greeted by Crystal, one of two SOFO Nature Educators.  Lindsey and Crystal are both graduates of Southampton University’s Marine Biology Program. “All the exhibits are exploratory,” Crystal explained. Later, when Jim walked through the museum with me, it felt as if we were on an interpretive hike.  SOFO has brought nature indoors, even furnishing a field guide for visitors. This is a great place for a kid or an adult to get a feeling for nature.  It engages all of your senses. Upstairs, there are interactive displays with live, stuffed, and model animals.  There are doors, drawers, and focus cases that are like little portholes in the wall, giving unique visual perspectives.  Each display includes the sounds appropriate to the environment it simulates. There is even a place on the wall where you can smell the scent of a fox. Out on a landing, there are three telescopes to use for looking out over the fields (and at my friends out there pulling up Knotweed). 

In the beginning of the walk, we watched a 4-minute video that describes how Long Island was created by glaciers.  The display, in conjunction with the video, is a very effective teaching mechanism.  I observed a Harrier Hawk and a Red Fox pouncing on a vole. The nature murals on the walls are actually greatly enlarged pictures taken by Robert Villani, a gifted nature photographer.

Our indoor hike took us to a salt marsh, a coastal plain pond, and a beach.  We were then able to look inside a decomposing tree and see how it was recycled into the forest providing sustenance and shelter to a myriad of organisms.  We walked along Montauk’s recessional moraine and learned about the ecology of the reef that stretches north to Block Island.  There is also a display that helps you visualize how the process of littoral drift changes the shape of the island.

Downstairs there is a marine touch tank filled with specimens collected from the nearby Atlantic Ocean and bays.  There are more native frogs, toads, salamanders and turtles downstairs. Next to the large fresh and saltwater fish tanks there is a children’s program area where kids can enjoy creative nature projects.

This is a great place to take your family when you want to commune with nature but the weather is inclement.  You can contact SOFO at (631) 537-9735.  On a nice day, after your visit, you can walk out back though the Old Field, onto the Widow Gavitts Trail.  This trail takes you north to Crooked Pond and the rest of the Long Pond Greenbelt.  I was dazzled by the SOFO experience and am looking forward to visiting again.

 

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Long Island Trail Lovers Coalition

Ken Kindler
Open Space & Trails Advocate
Post Office Box 1466
Sayville NY 11782
ken@litlc.org

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