From beans to backpackers: New trail reclaims former farmland

SCOTT FEIERSTEIN PHOTOS | From left, Ed Shillingburg, Stephen Jacobs, Joe Denny, Audrey Wood, Nancy Walker, Bran Dougherty and Gordon Gooding in front of a piece of water pumping equipment from the lima bean days. Also lending a hand (but not in the picture) were Craig and Owen Wood.

SCOTT FEIERSTEIN PHOTOS | From left, Ed Shillingburg, Stephen Jacobs, Joe Denny, Audrey Wood, Nancy Walker, Bran Dougherty and Gordon Gooding in front of a piece of water pumping equipment from the lima bean days. Also lending a hand (but not in the picture) were Craig and Owen Wood.

On the morning of April 7, nine members of the Shelter Island Group for Trails Preservation, led by the group’s founder Joe Denny, met up at the corner of Cobbetts Lane and Manhanset Road to clear land that once served as a lima bean farm. The clean-up was part of a stewardship plan put in place for the 21.8 acre parcel, which was purchased by the town’s Community Preservation Fund and Suffolk County in 2004. 

Back in the early 1950s, lima bean farming took root with the Shelter Island Farmer’s Cooperative, a group of Island growers who produced lima beans on 1,500 acres for companies like Libby and Snowcrop. Many Islanders were employed in the industry, but in 1954, crops and equipment were damaged by Hurricane Carol and two tropical storms. When Hurricane Connie arrived in August 1955, followed by mildew and a plague of Mexican bean beetles, the industry came to a screeching halt.

Joe Denny mans the chain saw to remove an old tree.

Joe Denny mans the chain saw to remove an old tree.

Since then, the parcel at Cobbetts Lane and Manhanset Road has become tangled with vines and invasive plants. During last Saturday’s clean-up, the crew came across a rusty piece of farm equipment which was used to pump water to irrigate the bean fields. Mr. Denny expects there will be 15 more two-hour work sessions in the weeks ahead at this site as well as others. The goal is to have the “Old Lima Bean Fields” preserve open to hikers with trail blazes along the path by Memorial Day. A stone with a bronze plaque is to be placed at the corner of the property in front of the old pumping equipment. It will include information about the history of lima bean farming on the Island. A second stone will be placed at the entrance to a walking path and trail and will contain a plaque with the name of the preserve along with an engraved map, acreage and use of the properties.

Joe Denny and Stephen Jacobs discuss the task at hand.

Joe Denny and Stephen Jacobs discuss the task at hand.

The crew hard at work clearing the land.

The crew hard at work clearing the land.

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