The Nature Conservancy Preserves Our Beaches and Bays
by jeff hughes
The Nature Conservancy works to protect Long Island’s beaches
My love for the East End began when I was a child and visited my grandmother’s cottage in Southampton. Those early summer days were mainly spent outdoors exploring the bays, creeks, beaches, and marshlands of the Peconic Estuary. We fished, crabbed, hiked, and sailed on small boats. When we did leave the water, we traveled on the back roads (Noyac Road was a dirt road in my very early years) through woods and farm fields that were as beautiful, in their own way, as the water. Even at a young age, I knew this was a very special area.
The East End is packed with treasures like this—people have their own little bays, creeks, or fields that are beautiful and still full of wildlife. But a lot has changed since those days. There are more people enjoying the natural beauty and sense of peace on the East End, which is a good thing. However, at the same time, we’ve lost a lot of our wilderness to development, which is why the conservation of our natural lands and the stewardship of our clean waters are so important.
My wife, Karen, and I first got involved in conservation in the 1970s when The Nature Conservancy was working to protect the 2,039-acre parcel on Shelter Island that became the Mashomack Preserve. At the time, the open space and farmland that blanketed Long Island were quickly disappearing. We realized there was—and still is—something we could do to protect the places we care so much about. We can support the organizations that are keeping our lands and waters healthy, and we can pass down that conservation ethic to our own children, Andrew and Alexandra. We actually started that process by making both of our children Life Members of The Nature Conservancy before they were a year old.
Indeed, one of the great prides of our family is passing on the love and caring of our precious area. Karen’s parents, whose lineage on the East End dates back to the 1640s, have done the same for her and we have successfully nurtured a love of nature in our children. Though Andrew and Alexandra have grown and relocated, they still consider Southampton their “true” home. Andrew lives in San Francisco and is a security analyst covering the global solar and clean tech industries; Alexandra, a second grade teacher in Aspen, keeps local ties to The Nature Conservancy on Long Island as chair of the junior committee for the Beaches and Bays Gala.
The love and respect for nature that both Karen and I have is part of what brought the two of us together. It’s also enabled us to meet so many wonderful people of the same mind-set, both on the East End and across the wider Nature Conservancy. This includes projects such as traveling to the Amazon Region of Brazil to observe and support the Conservancy’s work there.
If there is a lesson to be learned or a message in all of this, it’s to start educating your children at a young age about the importance of the environment. If you create and nurture that same sense of caring in them, then a lot more people will be engaged in helping to protect the natural world, and we will all benefit from that.
photography by derek rogers/the nature conservancy (bird); kara jackson/the nature conservancy (volunteers); ed sambolin (beach); courtesy of hughes family (beach); rob rich/society allure (event)