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Dispute arises over road access to Taylor’s Island

There’s a dispute between caretakers of Taylor’s Island and The Nature Conservancy regarding road access to Taylor’s Island — a site donated to the town for public use.

P.A.T. Hunt and several members of the Taylor’s Island Preservation and Management Committee told the Town Board at its January 23 work session that people jogging on the dirt road through Mashomack Preserve — owned by The Nature Conservancy — which leads to Taylor’s Island, were told access was closed and were asked to leave the property. That prompted Ms. Hunt to ask the Town Board to end its “Memorandum of Understanding” with The Nature Conservancy.

The memorandum has been in place since August 2001. Among its provisions is a commitment to preserve access rights to taxpayer-funded Taylor’s Island. But the language referred to a right-of-way via the roadway, which doesn’t make it a public road, Town Attorney Bob DeStefano said.

Last November, a local runner, Cheryl Cashin, who had long used the trail, wrote in a letter posted on the town’s website, that she was with two friends when they were stopped and told they were trespassing on private property. Unsure of their rights, they left.

A few weeks later, Ms. Cashin wrote, she was running on the unpaved roadway again when she and a friend were confronted by a man with two dogs blocking their passage to Taylor’s Island. Again, they were asked to leave the property.

A third try, Ms. Cashin said, resulted in an encounter with Jeremy Samuelson, the director of The Nature Conservancy Mashomack Preserve. Police were called and listened to the women’s account and said they would look into the situation.

Mr. Samuelson issued a written statement: “The Nature Conservancy is always mindful of our obligation to balance the needs of Mashomack Preserve and its natural resources with the presence of visitors and the community. With regard to Taylor’s Island, it is our understanding that the town is preparing a draft update to the Memorandum of Understanding which we look forward to reviewing.”

He declined further comment.

“Some residents will fight to exclude their neighbors from enjoying one of the most breathtaking vistas on the Island,” Ms. Cashin wrote in her letter. The alternative, Ms. Cashin said, is to allow people to peacefully access Taylor’s Island via the roadway without being confronted by dogs, people telling them they are trespassing and the police.

Given the circumstances of the situation, Ms. Hunt asked the Town Board to rescind the existing Memorandum of Understanding while negotiating a new one. But Mr. DeStefano advised against tossing the existing memorandum until a new one is in place.
“There are some dangers for us” in abandoning the original agreement without a replacement,” he said.

Mr. DeStefano explained that withdrawing from some of the terms of the memorandum would eliminate all agreements between the two parties, and could cause more issues to develop.

He confirmed that he is in the process of drafting a new agreement that will be submitted to The Nature Conservancy for its input.