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Erosion Threatens Blufftop Trails in Montauk

Posted on March 20, 2023

History is repeating itself on Montauk’s ocean shoreline, where erosion has once again prompted officials in East Hampton Town’s Land Management Department to recommend a landward rerouting of bluff trails in Shadmoor State Park and the adjacent Rheinstein Nature Preserve.

As the rain and wind of a late-winter northeaster threatened more erosion on Tuesday, the town board heard from Land Management’s Andy Gaites and Andy Drake, who provided documentary evidence of a steadily eroding bluff that renders existing hiking trails in the adjacent parks hazardous if not impassable.

The 99-acre Shadmoor State Park comprises two parcels, one owned by Suffolk County and one jointly owned by the town and New York State. It includes approximately 2,400 feet of coastal bluff, which Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc described as “an absolutely stunning place to walk and view the ocean” but one that has seen significant erosion.

“Major portions” of the bluff trail were rerouted in 2004, 2008, 2010, and 2018 due to erosion, Mr. Gaites told the board. Segments of trail in the Rheinstein preserve have also been relocated over the years, he said. Once again, portions of the hiking trails in both are dangerously close to the bluff’s edge.

His department has aerial photography dating to 1962, Mr. Gaites said, and using as fixed markers two World War II-era concrete bunkers, each more than 300 feet from the bluff, he calculated erosion of 50 and 63 feet over that span, or an average of .94 feet per year. In the last year, using six stakes driven into the bluff less than 35 feet from its edge, he has measured loss ranging from less than a foot to more than three feet, or an average of .88 feet, “which was surprisingly close to my aerial measurement over the 60-year period of .94 feet per year,” he said.

Like Mr. Gaites, Mr. Drake showed images of the beach at Rheinstein park, immediately west of Ditch Plain beach, as well as aerial photography depicting existing trails and proposed reroutes. On Feb. 27, he said, “we cut in a pretty primitive reroute just to direct people away from this bluff edge. It puts us up to the top of the hill. What we’re seeking approval for is putting in and installing a newly rerouted trail around the hill altogether.”

The proposed reroute, approximately 675 feet, would traverse a wetland area, which he said would require 80 to 100 feet of boardwalk. “It would last a significant amount of time to avoid these erosions and constant reroutes,” he said, “and put us in a good place for some time.”

Councilman David Lys, the board’s liaison to the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee as well as the town’s nature preserve committee, said that both groups are supportive of the proposed reroutes. Members of the board also supported the plan.

Jeremy Samuelson, director of the Planning Department, urged the board to “consider making this a more public discussion in the form of signage at the trail head so there’s an opportunity to get people to understand the fundamental concepts that are in play, and then talk about the appropriate response,” which he said is a retreat from the shoreline. This, he said, could be “a starting place for harder conservations like moving critical infrastructure,” a long-range plan envisioned in the Montauk hamlet study but not included when the townwide business district hamlet studies were added to the comprehensive plan in 2020.

All agreed that the departments would work together to craft information for the kiosk that will help people understand the issues.


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