The Accabonac Protection Committee is working to
return the Barbara Hale Preserve on Accabonac Harbor
to a meadow. Over the decades, trees and other vegetation
have taken over many of Springs' meadows.
Photo by Ellen Watson.
By Cile Downs, Accabonac Protection Committee
Much of Springs was once cleared for agriculture, despite the fact that glacial moraine makes poor farm land. As far as we know, it was originally all woods, which must have been a back-breaking job to clear without machines. Sooner or later, people found out they were better off grazing animals on it. Even the Indians were, some say, in the habit of burning over meadows near the water.
In the 1950s, the Barbara Hale Refuge off Springs Fireplace Road was a dairy farm, or the grazing part of one. Later, beef cattle were pastured there, then horses. All this time, the land was kept in meadow by an annual pass with the sickle-bar, in addition to the grazing. It doesn’t take much to keep a meadow a meadow, but once it starts to grow up in bushes and trees, it becomes a big job.
After it was sold to the Weitzmans, who planned to develop it, they were advised not to remove any vegetation lest the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation swoop in. The 17 acres quickly became wooded. This was a tragedy for any number of species that once thrived in the grassland – meadowlarks, kildeer, upland sandpipers, grasshopper sparrows, visiting glossy ibis, migrating Canada geese, hunting kestrels, quail, pheasant, and more.
Happily, after 15 years of effort by the Accabonac Protection Committee (APC) and others, East Hampton Town and Suffolk County purchased the property. Several more years of lobbying by APC persuaded the Town Board to create a Nature Preserve there, name it in memory of Barbara Hale, and restore the meadow that had flourished there for generations.
The East Hampton Natural Resources Department stated years ago that it would be more valuable ecologically as wet meadow than as woods, the former becoming ever rarer and the latter ever more common. The views of Accabonac Creek that used to be visible from any of the roads around it were considered a community asset, and everyone who remembers them would like to see them restored. The clearing requires the approval of the NY State DEC, and would maintain a buffer at the edge of the wetlands. A permit application was submitted by EHNRD, and we are hopeful that in further discussions with the DEC, a plan will be devised that will allow the meadow and its flora and fauna to return.