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Life is a Shelter Island Beach: A primer for newcomers (and forgetful natives)

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Happy summer!

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Happy summer!

Okay visitors — and year-rounders with faulty memories — here’s the skinny for those in bikinis.

Shelter Island has some 20 miles of coastline that ranges from sandy beaches with shallow waters and lifeguards to rustic spots that offer beauty and seclusion but with a little less polish. If you’re “just visiting” you may feel that beach access is a treat to be enjoyed only by residents but that is not the case here.

Whether you’re here for the summer or just a day, here’s a guide to the ins and outs, do’s and don’ts of Shelter Island Town’s beaches.

THE BASICS
There are three official town beaches and two landings that require a triangular beach permit for parking. At Crescent Beach, or Louis’ Beach, parking with a permit is limited to the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

There are also some spots at each end of Crescent Beach that are designated as resident parking on a 24/7 basis. At Wades Beach, Shell Beach, Menhaden Lane and Fresh Pond Road parking with a permit is allowed 24 hours a day.

The roads around these five locations are posted as no parking areas, even for those with stickers, so sadly, leaving your car nearby and walking to the beach is not a viable way to get around the sticker issue.

Any vehicle with a license plate — scooter, moped, motorcycle — must have a valid parking permit or you risk a parking violation. Our traffic enforcers have good eyes and accurate watches. The cost of a ticket is $100. That’s no day at the beach.

Beach permits are free to taxpayers upon proof of residency and car registration and may be obtained either by mail (Town Clerk, P.O. Box 1549, Shelter Island, NY 11964) or by visiting the Town Clerk’s office in Town Hall, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or Saturdays during the summer between 9 a.m. and noon.

If you are not lucky enough to be a resident, there are other options, however.

Visitors may purchase permits at a cost of $50 per week, $95 per month or $230 for the season. A day pass costs $25. Some of our local inns, hotels and bed and breakfasts have stickers for their guests, so if you are lodging at a commercial establishment, check with the front desk before heading over to Town Hall.

THE TOWN BEACHES
Each of the three town beaches has its own unique elements and character. Wades, which is on the south side of the Island and fronts Shelter Island Sound, has a wide sandy beach, lifeguards, restrooms and a gently sloping, shallow swimming area, which makes it popular with families with children.

A sparkling new addition, generously provided by the Shelter Island Lions Club and the town is an open-air pavilion for elderly residents and people with disabilities, right at the edge of the sand.

Crescent, or Louis’ Beach, facing Southold and Greenport on the north, also has lovely sand, restrooms (the white trailer at the north end of the beach) and a lifeguard.

It is the site of our annual fireworks celebration, which occurs this year on Saturday, July 7.

Lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at both Wades and Crescent. At any other time or at any other beach, you swim strictly at your own risk.

On the other side of the Island from Crescent is Shell Beach, a narrow finger of land roughly three quarters of a mile in length that protrudes into Shelter Island Sound.

Accessible only by a narrow unpaved road, Shell has no amenities unless you count the clear warm waters, beautiful wildflowers and views of either West Neck Harbor or the South Fork. Be mindful that parts of Shell are home to piping plovers and other nesting birds. Those areas are roped off and hung with little pink flags and everyone is asked to please respect the barriers.

Designated a town landing, Menhaden Lane on the east side of the Island is technically not a beach. There is a small parking area and a glorious view of Gardiner’s Bay, which is usually dotted with sailboats on weekend afternoons. The other permitted landing is at Fresh Pond. Not really a beach at all, this area is a small plot of sand leading into a fresh water pond.

NON-PERMIT ACCESS
Walking or taking a bike to the beach is obviously an easy solution to the permit issue. But if you can’t lay claim to a beach permit, and walking or biking to one of the town beaches is not practical, do not despair.

There are some 45 other town landings of which you can avail yourself and any number of roads that dead end at the water.

Check out Bootlegger’s Alley, Crab Creek Road, Carousel Lane or Hiberry Lane, to name just a few, all of which are accessible without a permit, though parking is limited. To locate a landing, pick up the free Chamber of Commerce map that is available all over town and look for the little anchor.

As you explore the Island, you may see several other beaches in areas such as South Ferry Hills, Shorewood and Harborview Acres. These are all private areas that are restricted to members of their respective homeowners’ associations.

And those cute little red and white cabanas that you can see when you come across on the North Ferry? Sorry, they belong to the members-only Heights Beach Club.

THE RULES AND REGS
So you’ve made it to the beach. What now?

No dogs are permitted on Shelter Island town bathing beaches at any time. No matter how cute, small or well-behaved, even if you keep him or her on a leash, dogs are not allowed to enjoy our white sand and temperate waters. Think about it. Do you want to spread your beach towel where Fido has made his mark?

The town code, in section 55-3, reads: “No person shall accompany his dog or allow his dog to be on or roam at large on any of the Town bathing beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day.”

Another verboten activity is topless sunbathing for women. It’s just not in keeping with our family orientation and Quaker heritage.

Bonfires and barbecues, on the other hand, are allowed and no permit is required to enjoy them. According to Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar, “All we ask is that you make sure you leave the area cleaner than how you found it. We really don’t want people making a mess.” Makes sense, no? It’s a good rule to follow whether you have a fire or not.

Trash containers are plentiful at all the town beaches and landings so there’s no excuse to leave your debris behind.

To accompany your barbecue, you may enjoy beverages of any type provided that they are not in glass containers. Beach glass is indeed lovely but not imbedded in someone’s foot.

BEACH DRIVING
Rules for driving on the Island’s beaches vary by time of year and the location. Beach driving permits are required to drive on Wades, Crescent, Menhaden Lane, Shell Beach and Reel Point, an environmentally sensitive spit of land at the end of Big Ram. The permits are available at the Town Clerk’s office for a fee of $25 per year for residents and $100 for non-residents.

There is a 5-mph speed limit and driving is not permitted on any dunes, beach grasses, berms, wetlands vegetation or any other similar vegetative barrier or in any area designated as a protected nesting area.

At Shell Beach, the rights of the piping plover take precedence over vehicles and no beach driving is permitted between April 1 and September 15. On Crescent, Wades and Menhaden Lane, there is no beach driving allowed between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the summer season.

If you prefer to walk on the beach, please note that both Wades and Crescent abut private property; the limits of the town beaches there are clearly posted. Please respect the rights of the owners who pay very substantial taxes to enjoy their waterfront property and stay below the high water mark, which is usually indicated by a line of seaweed on the sand.

So this should get you to a plot of sand you can call your own. All you need now is sunscreen and a picnic and you’re set for the day. Life really is a beach.

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