As the Peconic Land Trust readies to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2023, it ends 2022 with some major acquisitions.
“It’s been a productive year,” agrees Yvette DeBow Salsedo, vice president of the Peconic Land Trust in a recent interview.
“We’ve seen, across Long Island, substantive interest in land conservation as people have been connecting with the farms, outdoor recreation, and open vistas. We are buoyed by the enthusiasm in support, not only for acquisitions, but also in terms of improving our trail systems, opening up more lands to the public, improving water quality of coastal ponds, and supporting food programs that make the incredible vegetables and fruit we are growing here available to more members of our community,” she says.
Over its 40 years of preservation work on the East End, the non-profit organization has seen “ebbs and flows in conservation,” Salsedo explains. “Most of this relates to opportunity. For conservation to happen, it takes many people – including landowners, donors, neighbors, and public partners. We approach our work from a problem-solving perspective, always looking for win-win outcomes.”
John v.H. Halsey and a small group of local residents established the Peconic Land Trust in 1983 to help protect Long Island’s working farms, natural lands and heritage. Over 13,000 acres of land have been protected since and millions of dollars have been raised with private funds. There is a misconception amongst the public that the Peconic Land Trust receives money from the Peconic Bay Regional Community Preservation Fund’s 2-percent transfer tax — that money goes to municipalities, not the land trust.
Salsedo says the land trust is “nimble enough to act when opportunities present themselves and time is of the essence,” pointing to acquisitions like Sugar Loaf Hill in Southampton, once sacred burial ground of the Shinnecock people that many fought to save from further development. In 2021, the trust acquired 4.6 acres at the peak of Sugar Loaf Hill with the Southampton Town Board simultaneously purchasing the development rights. Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd fame who has a house in Bridgehampton, provided a large portion of the funds the trust needed to not only buy the property but to restore it to its natural state.
“Because of donor and community support, the trust has seen an inflow of dollars from grants and foundations to support these initiatives,” Salsedo says.
Peconic Land Trust’s 2022
Looking back at 2022, among the biggest acquisitions was the purchase of the Deep Hole Creek property in Mattituck. The trust closed on the 14.94-acre farm at 4180 New Suffolk Avenue in June, paying $2.85 million. Over the better part of two years, the land trust raised over $652,000 toward the purchase price and took out a loan for the rest. The Town of Southold also simultaneously purchased the development rights.
The land trust is considered an interim owner. This fall, the trust issued a request for proposals for the property and has since selected a farmer to be its steward; the two are in contract, according to Salsedo, who did not elaborate further. Stay tuned, she says.
Over on the South Fork, the land trust, in equal partnership with the Town of East Hampton, bought what is now called the Jones Creek Preserve in April. It has been on the market for $11.75 million, but despite multiple bids, including reported interest from Beyoncé and Jay-Z who are neighbors, Ana Meier, the daughter of world-renowned architect Richard Meier, and her husband Daniel Creighton sold 18 Jones Creek Lane for $8.5 million.
The town used funds from its Community Preservation Fund for the 2.71-acre vacant parcel, while the trust tapped into money provided by Andrew Davis, trustee of the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund.
“The property is a beautiful pristine piece along the Jones Creek which flows into [Georgica] pond. As we know, the ponds are stressed by contaminants and to preserve this piece and eliminate a potential housing development is important in terms of helping the pond’s ecosystem,” Salsedo says of the purchase.
Nearby, the land trust also worked this year to improve access and signage at Georgica Pond Preserve, located on the corner of Montauk Highway and Wainscott Stone Road in Wainscott, a property acquired back in 2020. The property has been turned into a preserve with pathways, signage and benches. This year, more work was done to restore the land with native meadow plantings.
Billionaire heiress Katharine Rayner, who lives on Georgica Pond, donated money to support the $6.25 million purchase of the 1.4-acre property that long housed a restaurant, later torn down, and the property’s remediation and restoration.
“We do hear of folks coming and enjoying the preserve. We are planning a few educational programs at the preserve in the new year to talk more about water quality and steps homeowners can take to improve the quality of our surface and drinking waters,” Salsedo says of the ongoing effort with the Town of East Hampton and the Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation to reduce the stormwater run-off into the pond from the roads and surrounding properties.
“Also, we are partnering with Cornell, Stony Brook University, Friends of Georgica Pond, and the Town of East Hampton on water quality initiatives, which include septic system upgrades, research of groundwater/surface runoff, and restoration,” she adds.
As for other projects undertaken this year, a half-mile trail connecting the Harold A. Reese Preserve and the Wolf Preserve in Southold was completed over the summer. The trails at the two preserves were also widened to six feet to accommodate wheelchairs and strollers.
The trust acquired the Reese Preserve, which totals 29.8 acres on the Great Hog Neck Peninsula, in November 2020. The property, named after the seller’s father, Harold A. Reese, was made possible by the Reese family’s choice of a bargain sale, and also by accessing a line-of-credit provided by an anonymous donor to the trust. Mainly woodland, with a one-acre freshwater wetlands, access can be found at 8360 N. Bayview Road.
The Wolf Preserve, open to the public since 2006, is a 20-acre parcel along Main Bayview Road. “We have been planning an accessible trail system for a few years at the Wolf Preserve. The stewardship team had been working with a landscape architect consultant on the design,” Salsedo says. Work began in 2020.
“When we acquired the Reese property, it was a natural extension for the trails system. The first trail at Wolf was blazed in 2020, followed by two more loops in 2021, and then, in 2022 the Reese loop. The funding for the trail system was raised privately and through grant funding from the Land Trust Alliance,” she says.
In addition to its work on the East End, the trust purchased a 1.3-acre property located on Conscience Bay in Setauket in May, adding to an existing assemblage of parcels, including along Little Bay, with historic and environmental significance. The property borders New York State Department of Environmental Conservation-owned and protected land and the trust worked with the Kozikowski family, who owned the property. A house has been removed, and, as of this week, the property is being restored as a natural habitat, Salsedo says.
As the Peconic Land Trust looks forward to 2023, it expects to close on the 38-acre Condzella family farm in Wading River, forever protecting it for agricultural use. “Due to a huge outpouring of support this April, we were able to reach our goal of $305,000,” the land trust announced recently.
“We are grateful for the support of the community for these parcels of land. The donations were important for us to match funding from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets for the purchase of the development rights. We are hoping to fully close on this project in the new year,” Salsedo says.
“As we look into the new year, there are a number of ongoing projects as well as prospects in the works, but we never count our chickens until they hatch,” she continues. “Some projects require us to be patient and consistent for years, while others may just take months to complete. No two projects are the same and vary based of the goals, needs and circumstances of landowners and the conservation values of the land they own.”
The land trust expects to roll out a new fundraising effort to renovate Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton to make it more accessible and to support more educational programs centered around gardening and sustainable land management, land conservation and healthy food. “This effort will focus on both the building and the garden grounds,” she explains.