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Charity’s Column: How to enjoy Shelter Island responsibly

Shelter Island has been a high-end retreat since the 17th Century, but this summer we are really having a moment.

Already flush with residents who came during the pandemic and didn’t leave, this year’s tide of seasonal visitors swelled in response to three newly-renovated hotels, and travel articles describing our quaint, bucolic ways. A North Ferry line that crosses Bridge Street is now a normal event.

Visitors fresh off the ferry and looking to soak up the charms of our little island in August should exercise caution. Victorian architecture, quiet beaches, an osprey on every telephone pole and farm stands full of ripe tomatoes is a heady brew. Please enjoy it responsibly and in moderation, as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Start with something to eat. Food in the stomach allows Shelter Island to be absorbed more slowly. We don’t really have a rating system for restaurants, but if we did, dining stars would be awarded in reverse proportion to the price of dinner, which is why the fried chicken dinner at Commander Cody‘s is considered the epitome of dining by some Shelter Islanders.

Don’t ask what the hot, new restaurant is. There are so many new places to eat, only Instagram knows. Most of us are still trying to understand why on some Wednesday nights in January, there is only one restaurant serving dinner on the entire island.

There’s something about just passing through a place that makes a person overindulge. Maybe it’s the urge to get the total experience, to see it all. When I’m a tourist, I do the same thing, driving too late, biking too far, figuring that if I don’t get to that scenic spot today I may never get there, because who knows when I’m coming back?

But if you are checking your phone to see if the Sylvester Manor farm stand is still open while driving down Manhanset Road late in the day, you not only risk getting a ticket, you’ll miss one of Shelter Island’s most beautiful vistas, across farm fields into dark woods and a setting sun.

Visit Shelter Island the way you would visit your dowager Aunt Octavia. Would you leave candy wrappers in her yard? Stop up the toilet and take a 45-minute shower? If she made you a nice dinner, would you harass her if your entree did not come quickly enough?

Acknowledge Shelter Island’s age and dignity, just as you would do for your ancient aunt. If you refer to this island as Shelter, does that mean you and Shelter Island are on a first-name basis? Save such familiarity for your next visit, and hope to be invited back.

You’d probably bring your aunt a gift, as thanks for her hospitality. Why not, when you hike at Mashomack, see the exhibit of local artists at the Historical Society, or kayak out to Taylor’s Island, follow up with a donation to support these local institutions?

Take care of yourself; don’t get hurt or cause harm. The Shelter Island Police Department and volunteer Fire Department are prepared to haul you out of trouble on land or sea, but they would strongly prefer not to.

If you are touring by bike, do you really need to cross the Island on Route 114 riding two abreast, oblivious to drivers who must dodge oncoming traffic to pass, and risking a head-on collision? Do you blow through stop signs?  Do you allow people on your motorboat to sit on the bow with their feet hanging over the water, putting them at risk of falling and being run over? Do you drive your car across delicate shoreline areas of sand and grass to get to remote and beautiful spots?

All of these things have happened this summer. Please don’t let them happen again.

Like most communities, the people who live here don’t agree on all things. You may hear spirited, and occasionally uncivil discourse around issues like affordable housing, for one. But if there is one thing that unites local people, it’s reverence for our land, air and sea.

Brett Surerus, co-founder of the Shelter Island Action Alliance, and one of our most effective civic organizers, said, “This delicate, ecological marvel that we call home requires respect from locals, summer residents and day trippers alike. We are responsible in this moment for its care so that future generations can enjoy the same splendor that we do now. Shop local, be kind, patient and grateful for the bounty and beauty that we all share in this magical place called Shelter Island.”