When most of Shelter island went into lockdown 15 months ago to protect against the spread of the COVID-19 virus, one Island institution expanded its hours of operation.
With churches, school (for a while), the FIT Center, the Legion hall and most shops and restaurants closed, Mashomack Preserve was open to the public from dawn to dusk. And rules were changed to have the Preserve open seven days a week, which in the past had only been during July and August.
As Jeremy Samuelson, the Preserve’s director, told the Reporter this week, “The big-picture question we had to try and answer when COVID happened was: ‘What are we trying to accomplish? How do we tread lightly to protect what we have in such a way that we can do something for our community? How do we balance the resources we’re charged with caring for and provide people with appropriate access?’”
Mashomack’s more than 10 miles of coastline and 2,350 acres of meadows, deep woods, creeks, marshes and streams is one of the great natural resources for the region. Always a place to find solace from the stresses of the modern world, Mashomack became even more so during the bleak months of the pandemic. It’s why, Mr. Samuleson said, the hours were expanded and the preserve was open every day. And now, even with COVID contagion rates dropping, the schedule will remain the same, dawn to dusk, seven days a week.
Other significant changes have been instituted this spring. The trail network has been expanded, with a new coastal trail added, with updated signage and maps to help visitors navigate the Preserve with greater ease. Some of the trails have been routed away from places that regularly flood due to sea-level rise and “marsh migration,” Mr. Samuleson said.
A striking example of climate change is that Mashomack employees found that one trail that floods seasonally every year was “flooding at a rate rarely exceeded in 40 years,” Mr. Samuelson said.
Educational outreach — always one of the driving forces of the Preserve’s mission, including the Reporter column, “Mashomack Musings” — is involving young people and children even more this spring, the director said. He cited one example as the process of re-routing of trails. “Rather than just do it,” Mr. Samuleson said, “and put up new signs, we’ve made this a curriculum we’re working with kids and school groups to come here and say to them, ‘You live in a coastal community, these are challenges we’re all going to have to face over the next bunch of decades. So let’s use this as an opportunity to talk about how we can make better decisions.’”
Other changes for the better this spring are improvements to the parking area and updated septic systems were made to the onsite treatment centers.
And runners are now taking on the winding, dipping, challenging and beautiful trails. “We’re rolling it out on a trial basis,” Mr. Samuelson said, again speaking of always being aware of balancing visitors’ enjoyment with keeping Mashomack as pristine as possible.
“We don’t want an overwhelming use by runners,” he added. “We’re reaching out to running groups and asking that runners run in groups of a maximum of three.”
Another policy change is that hiking will be allowed along select areas of the beach for the first time.
Noting the purpose of the new access, Mr. Samuleson imagined “a family getting in their car, they’ve come from the other side of Long Island or Nassau County and they’re going to spend the day with us. Are we really going to tell them, ‘Thank you for coming all the way here, now please don’t go for a walk on the beach?’ That’s not realistic. I’m not sure it gives that family the respite it’s looking for.”
Careful consideration was given again, he said, to balancing the protection of Mashomack with safety for visitors and close access to the beauty that surrounds them. More changes might be coming this fall, Mr. Samuleson said, with a “longer, more adventurous coastal loop. Our goal is to welcome visitors from the Island and elsewhere in a way that allows them to spend time in nature and learn about this place.”