Childhood memories of playing in the woods and freely hiking trails sparked Dan Fokine and Joe Denny to give the same experiences to their children and other Islanders. A first step was starting what they’re dubbing the Shelter Island Trail Club.
It’s something of an expansion of Vinebusters, the volunteer group that devotes time and energy to clearing cat briar and other invasive plants that block many trails.
Both men said they saw the need to involve more people in helping to clear the pathways choked with invasives, fallen trees and limbs, and thought those who enjoy hiking and biking in the woods would be natural recruits.
Their ambitions are not to make a lot of new trails, but to open the neglected ones and link some of them together.
Because of neglect, some wooded areas have been abused, Mr. Denny said. He and Mr. Fokine have found beer bottles and debris better suited to the Recycling Center strewn about along Island trails and woods.
“You’ve got to protect it,” Mr. Denny said.
The men believe that by forming a private/public partnership with Shelter Island Town, they can perform much of the needed maintenance with Community Preservation Fund money — a 2 percent tax on real estate sales that goes to fund open space — and return wooded areas to what they were 30 years ago.
How long will it take? Mr. Fokine and Mr. Denny estimate that the effort to clear paths and establish links to form a single trail could take about a year.
The organizers met with the town’s Conservation Advisory Committee (CAC) last week and encountered some concerns.
“There are a lot of issues,” CAC Chairman Ed Bausman said. Are these parks or preserves? He’s concerned about who is going to police the open trails to assure ATVs and motorcycles aren’t entering the trails if they’re opened, he said.
And if the men leading the effort pull back, who would pick up the job of maintenance? he asked.
“There is no emergency for this decision,” Mr. Bausman said. The CAC’s role is to vet the proposal and, if necessary, ask more questions of the proponents before making a recommendation to the Town Board that makes the final decision.
Members raised issues about liability stemming from the possibility of tick bites, particularly for nonresidents who may be uninformed about the infestation here according to Councilman Paul Shepherd, the liaison to the committee.
The club organizers said they are looking into liability insurance and other expenses.
Mr. Shepherd said he has no problems with the idea of clearing debris or installing signs to identify the trails. “I have no problem with the concept,” Mr. Shepherd said, but he questions how the club would execute its plans: Will there be dues? What financing is involved? Precisely what do the organizers want from the town?
They’re not looking for money, Mr. Fokine said, but a statement of support.
“As a founding member of Vinebusters, I have really enjoyed the experiences and memories of our clean-up days and how much we have accomplished with basically a few hand tools and a Saturday morning,” Mr. Fokine wrote in a letter to the Reporter, published last week, touting the new club. “One thing I feel like we’ve been lacking is inclusiveness. We are an action-based group and participation has been predominantly centered around cutting down vines and dragging heavy things around the woods. I wanted to start a group that would include everyone, young and old — not that old folks haven’t been the bulk of the draggers of heavy things! — and also work towards a goal that was more useful for everyone in the community.”