The Residents executive board officially introduced its proposal for a shoreline to shoreline trail system in mid-June when it mailed its proposal booklet to Town officials, village mayors, civic associations, and other important decision makers and endorsers. The 12-page, glossy proposal booklet contains a verbal description of the proposed system and trails within the system, reasons for developing the system, plus color maps and photos showing where the trails would be and what some of them do or would look like.
The Shoreline to Shoreline Greenway Trail System would include the 2.8 mile Hempstead Harbor Shoreline Trail, proposed by the Town of North Hempstead (TNH), that was discussed in detail at a public hearing on June 29 (a detailed article will appear in next week's issue). The system would also include many additional existing and proposed walkways, however, so that hikers could walk 12 unobstructed miles from Manorhaven Park on Manhasset Bay to Roslyn on Hempstead Harbor. The trail would start in the west at Manorhaven Park and proceed on the almost-completed Manhasset Bay Walkway (a trail system that was also inspired by Residents) to the Town Dock. It would then go along existing Main Street to Main Street Park, then across town on existing Main Street and Beacon Hill Road to proposed trails in the former sand pits area. These trails would include the town's proposed Hempstead Harbor Shoreline Trail that would run along the Hempstead Harbor shoreline and eventually connect Bar Beach to Roslyn. It would also include five connecting trails in the Morewood Park property that are proposed by the Residents executive board but not endorsed by the TNH. These include a Nature Trail that would connect Beacon Hill Road to the Hempstead Harbor Shoreline Trail, an Exercise Trail around the former sand mine settling basin, a South Trail along Morewood's southern perimeter, and a Bluff and Vista Trail along the bluffs of Morewood's western edge, below homes between Beacon Hill Road and Salem School.
The proposal for these latter two trails, especially for the higher, two-mile Vista Trail, is what has pitted residents versus Residents, Residents versus Residents, and town board officials against Residents, including a former executive director of Residents (Ellen Markowski, assistant to the TNH supervisor) against Residents, and former recipient of Residents political support (TNH Supervisor May Newburger) against Residents. Objections to these proposed trails have resulted in letters to this newspaper and to the TNH, as well as many telephone calls and meetings of civic associations.
Most of the objections have been voiced by representatives from the civic associations of neighborhoods that have homes overlooking the proposed trails, as well as by individual homeowners. Civic associations against the trail therefore include Beacon Hill, Highfield Estates, New Salem, and Southport. The three-member board of the North Salem Civic Association supports the proposed trails, however, but several resident members of that association are adamantly against the trails and claim the board, including its president Lillian Kane, does not represent the membership. The General Council of Civic Associations, which has members from all parts of Port, has decided to not take a position on the trail issue. Town Supervisor Newburger and her staff have also taken a strong stand against the trails.
The residents primary objection is based on a concern that hikers will increase soil erosion on land that is already unstable. The Town just recently spent $3.5 million on a special engineering project to check the erosion. The project also includes a water catchment system that collects runoff water to irrigate the golf course below. They claim that vegetation that was planted as part of this program needs more time to get established and do its job. According to one resident who asked to remain anonymous, this concern stems from the memory of what happened in the mid-1980s; despite a serious reclamation effort, the bluffs continued to erode because the land, composed of sand and shifting clay, was so unstable. The same source claims that erosion has been so bad in some areas that there is no room for a trail. The area between the edge of the cliff and the town fence is only five feet wide behind one resident's house. Bob Galli of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has stated that heavy rains could result in disastrous runoff soil erosion similar to what occurred in California.
Civic association leaders, including Dan Donatelli, Tom Bensen, David Nussbaum, and Barry Sherman, consider the Residents' trail proposal a reversal of Residents' previous support of efforts to stabilize the land a few years ago. They would like to persuade Residents to locate nature trails on less risky land. Because the land is so unstable, the town board recently adopted an ordinance that prohibits trespassing on the bluffs.
Another concern is that the trails will act as an attractive nuisance, luring non-residents and luring beer busts and drug trafficking. A trail in this location could also attract people who want to get onto the golf course without paying the entrance fees.
Opening the bluffs to people who might smoke and flick a cigarette raises the additional threat of fire. According to Ms. Markowski, the Port Washington Fire Department has thoroughly studied the Morewood Park area and determined how to fight a fire without using the bluffs for access and without building an additional fire station in the area.
Although the golf course developer will provide and fund 24-hour security for the golf course, Ms. Markowski said open trails along the bluffs would require the town and Port police to provide additional security at taxpayer expense. Mr. Blumenfeld would probably argue that it's worth the expense.
Safety was cited as another potential problem. If someone falls and hurts themselves, which is likely on the trails, then the town would have to pay damages. Taxpayers would have to pay for damages and/or expensive insurance policies.
The proposal's plan to access the southern end of the trail through the Salem School property infuriated many residents. They don't want to have strangers in the lot when their children are in school, and they object to Residents' inclusion of the Salem School parking lot as the head of one of the trails. According to school superintendent, Dr. Inserra, no one has ever asked permission to use the school property lot as a trail head.
Privacy is, of course, a concern for residents whose homes overlook the bluffs. They object to the prospect of having strangers in their back yard and/or peering into their back yard.
Town and neighborhood representatives also cited reasons for objecting to the other trails proposed by Residents for the Morewood Park property. One concern is that the soil near one trail is similar to quicksand.
Myron Blumenfeld said that his main reason for proposing the Vista Trail is that he believes everyone should be able to enjoy the flora and fauna and beautiful view that overlooks the new Morewood Park and Hempstead Harbor, as well as Long Island Sound. The proposed trail varies from 200 to 280 feet above sea level and includes a wooded section. He asserts that taxpayers who have funded the golf course and planned housing should have the opportunity to enjoy the property.
His main reason for proposing the trail now is that the TNH plans to erect a large fence that would block all public access to the trail area. Mr. Blumenfeld said that he was in no rush to construct the trail now, that he's willing to wait for vegetation to stabilize the slopes. He's afraid, however, that the erection of high fences would obliterate his dream of a connecting trail system forever. He confirms that his proposal is still in the dream stage now, that many details still have to be worked out, but he firmly believes that all problems can eventually be overcome and that his dream can someday be realized.
Blumenfeld disagrees with the claim that the bluffs will never be stable. He believes that the adjoining neighbors' concern about safety are unwarranted. He said that trail usage could be limited to daytime hours and that the Port Washington police and TNH personnel could actively patrol access points and the trail itself.
Blumenfeld argues that trails actually reduce crime, rather than attract it. He cited a 1993 study of Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail to back up his claim. He also points out that the proposed trail includes a path that has been used regularly for decades. Local residents have used it as a walking path, and the town uses the trail as a roadway for its maintenance trucks. A Schreiber student said that the cross-country team often runs there.
Mr. Blumenfeld says that he's willing to meet with residents and town officials to work out details that will make his trail dream agreeable to everyone. He expressed this desire publicly at the town's June 29 hearing. Although both parties appeared to be restrained, May Newburger also said that the Residents and town should try to work together, as they have so often done in the past to achieve great results.
Because many of the residents who are against the proposal, are also members, even board members of Residents, it was not certain at press time, whether the Residents' proposal has the majority backing of its full membership or its full board of directors, or if it just has the support of its executive board that includes Chairman Myron Blumenfeld and Vice Presidents Curt Trinko and Rick Krainin. Mr. Blumenfeld said that the 12-page proposal brochure, that was prepared by Landtech Design and included a Residents' logo and letterhead names, was underwritten by the Sierra Club Foundation.
All of the above questions and arguments are just academic, however, if the proposed trail isn't approved by the Town of North Hempstead Board and the Nassau County Legislature. The proposed trail is currently illegal under current statutes; so they would have to be rescinded. Even if the concept were approved by the town and county, funding would also have to be approved and/or appropriated from other sources, such as the state and federal governments and private sources.
The reason public officials were amongsthe first to be sent the proposal is that their endorsement, in the form of approval and funding, is needed to make Myron Blumenfeld's dream of a trail linkage system a reality. Each municipality that has a proposed trail within its domain has to approve that trail; then funding has to be appropriated.
The Vista Trail can never become a reality unless at least three Town Board members vote for legislation to create the trail; then they also have to vote to rescind prior legislation that made development on the bluffs illegal. Because part of the proposed Vista Trail is on county property, the votes of at least 10 Nassau County legislators are also needed.
To date Town Supervisor May Newburger has made it clear that she is adamantly against the proposed Vista Trail. Wayne Wink from County Legislator Barbara Johnson's office said that she has not yet had the time to read the proposal but that her vote would be essential because she's the only legislator from Port Washington; without Johnson's lead, no other legislator would vote approval of the trail.
Copies of Residents' 12-page Greenway Report (Proposal for a Shoreline-to-Shoreline Greenway Trail System in Port Washington, NY) are at the Port Washington Library. In a press release sent to this newspaper Residents urges people to call 767-9151 for additional information and to send letters in support of their proposal to Supervisor May Newburger in care of Residents at P.O. Box 864, Port Washington, NY 11050. Opponents to Residents' proposed trails likewise invite questions and letters of support. Most of the civic association leaders mentioned above have listings in the local telephone book. There is still time for more residents to voice their views; the trail controversy is likely to continue for some time.