Around the Island

Vine Busters clear a path through a pristine preserve


BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Rick Jackson (left) and Howard Johansen clearing a path Saturday morning at Turkem’s Rest Preserve.

Charles Kraus swung a three-foot long machete into a tangle of vines, which never had a chance.

Mr. Kraus, along with a dozen other volunteers, was clearing a path just off south Midway Road opposite Dickerson Creek Saturday morning. Their work would allow public access to one of Shelter Island’s newer pieces of open space preservation, about six unspoiled acres of woods flanking a marsh. The path they cleared snaked a hundred yards or so back from the road to a slight rise overlooking Fresh Pond.

Dubbed “Turkem’s Rest Preserve,” Saturday’s path clearing was organized by Shelter Island’s Vine Busters, a volunteer organization founded to combat invasive plant species that ruin woods and trails.

The Turkem’s Rest woods had certainly been invaded, especially by bittersweet vines thick as rope, but Saturday morning the primary goal was making the path passable for the public. For the past few weeks Peter Vielbig, chairman of the town’s Community Preservation Advisory Committee (CPAC), had come with a chain saw to do the heavy work of clearing downed trees from the path, said Tim Purtell, a Vine Buster volunteer.

Purchased jointly with Suffolk County in 2006, Turkem’s Rest was formerly the Sposato property. Almost half of the six acres is tidal wetlands. It has a history of aboriginal people living on or near there 3,000 years ago. The previous owners had commissioned an archeological survey in 1999, and found that a Native American, called “the Turkey Man,” (hence the property’s name) lived in the woods, along the marsh and on the banks of Fresh Pond.

This property will be “unimproved,” according to the town’s management plan. It has, the management plan states, “extensive encroachment by vines and undergrowth.”

The volunteers used silky saws, machetes and strong arms and backs to clear the path Saturday. Mr. Kraus, a member of the CPAC, said the goal was for every member of the committee to take stewardship of a property to help maintain it.

Turkem’s Rest has a maintenance budget of $500 to be used, for example, when a downed tree has to be cleared from the path by the Highway Department. The rest of the work is done by volunteers.

Mr. Purtell gave a tour of the property, walking back into the woods. He pointed out stunted holly trees, their green, spiky leaves glistening in the morning sunshine. Strangled by vines, when they are freed the ivy trees should flourish and grow, Mr. Purtell said.

Someone said the vines themselves were beautiful. “Beautiful and deadly,” Mr. Purtell said

Ahead was a glint of light and motion through the trees: Fresh Pond rippling with the breeze with geese just breaking the surface into flight.