In honor of the past five decades of work done by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, we will be taking the time to look back on some of our best accomplishments. We will be posting past articles that were published in our previous publication “Westchester Environment.”
In this post we are highlighting a piece written during 1980. Although this article a period piece, it speaks to many of the concerns that are affecting us today. 1980 was declared by President Carter to be “The Year Of The Coast,” and FCWC brings to light what this will mean for 1980-Westchester.
“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 2 No. 1 – January 1980
1980: The Year Of The Coast
Shops, sailors, tourists, refineries, fishermen, beachcombers, power plants, developers, and dreamers – what do they have in common? They all want a share of that thin and fragile edge of land where terrestrial and aquatic life meet and overlap in intricate and productive ways. This irresistible lure, born of man’s eternal fascination with the sea and his need for food, transportation, and commerce has led to intense competition for some of our richest resources. Within these coastal areas, complex ecological systems support large populations of fish, shellfish, birds, and plant life which, in turn, nourish and enrich human life. But today nearly 75% of New York State’s population lives within 15 miles of its shorelines and careless use has diminished or permanently destroyed many of these irreplaceable resources. Where man-made structures have removed natural barriers, storms, high winds and waves have erased miles of shoreline and taken their toll in countless lives and dollars.
While delivering his Environmental Message on August 3rd, President Carter pronounced 1980 “The Year of the Coast” and provided us with a platform from which to launch a series of articles dealing with the most vulnerable and valuable of Westchester’s coastal areas. We hope that they will serve to broaden your understanding and inspire your interest and activity on behalf of our coastline resources.
Preserving Our Coastline by Katherine Bregman
Long Island Sound may well be Larchmont and Mamaroneck’s greatest resource. It provides us with countless recreational and educational opportunities, gives added value to our properties, boost business and the area’s economy and, in all seasons, adds a bit of beauty to our lives.
For many years, however, we have taken the Sound’s beauty and bounty for granted. Along with our counterparts across the nation, we have made land use decisions without considering the environmental impact and have in the process, endangered some precious coast areas.
For example, marshland here and elsewhere was considered until recently to be waste land, and was destroyed by fill to give solid foundation to factories, waterfront homes and marinas. Today, these same salt marshes are prized as the origin of the food chain which sustains all life, as a aid to prevent soil erosion, and as protection for surrounding land from the destructive nature of the sea.
In 1972, the federal government took the first step to correct past errors. It enacted the Coastal Zone Management Act designed to meet a host of impressive needs. Among its goals are protection of the coastline and the fish and wildlife which make their homes there, reduction of air pollution, and improvement of major ports of commerce. It also is intended to help government officials on all levels find the optimum locations for factories, homes and parks where they would do the most good and least damage.
Under this act, states were asked to assess their waterfront areas, set up specific plans for protecting and preserving them, and to submit the entire package to the U.S. government. If the local programs meet federal guidelines, states are given federal funds to carry out their coastline plans.
In the seven years since the action was passed, 15 states, including New York, have developed coastline management plans. New York’s program is headed by Gov. Hugh L. Carey and Secretary of State Basil A. Paterson, with Robert C. Hanson serving as coastal program manager.
Although New York’s program is far from being implemented, it has targeted numerous coastal sites as areas of particular concern, and has sought local input for developing plans for the areas. Five such areas are on Westchester’s Sound Shore: Playland in Rye, Mamaroneck Harbor, Larchmont’s Premium Marsh, Mamaroneck’s Otter Guion Creek area and New Rochelle Harbor.
Two other areas here, which environmentalists believe need special care in the future, have been overlooked by the state. However, the Town of Mamaroneck’s Conservation Advisory Commission is urging the state to reevaluate its plans and add Larchmont Harbor and the Hommocks Greacen Point area of Mamaroneck to its list of areas of particular concern.
Playland in Rye is, in some ways, a microcosm of these contentious elemtns, since its 279 acrs on Long Island Sound contain an amusement park catering to 1.5 million people, a public beach and 111 acres of undeveloped land.
In 1925, when these land was acquired by Westchester County, it contained two small amusement parks, some resort hotels and a large swamp. In those days, the swamp was considered wasteland and was converted into Playland Lake, 60 acres cut off from the Sound by floodgates with tide locks to keep it level at high tide. The water can be almost completely changed with one tide run.
Today, conservationists prefer that swamps be left intact, as they are vital to purify water. But the creation of the lake had many benefits. Well-designed, it has great natural beauty with small islands, bends and curved shores, lined with a variety of trees and shrubs. It also gives hundreds an opportunity for boating and fishing.
In the winter, when the park is closed, the lake is home for ducks of many varieties, giving special joy to bird lovers. Even on a summer Sunday when the lake is fairly crowded with boats, you can see groups of mallards and Canada geese, whch have adjusted to the presence of people.
However, some changes may be on the horizon for Playland. The authority of the county’s Playland Commission expires on December 31, and suggestions for changes are being solicited and discussed by the county.
As with any shoreline property, it is sought after groups eager to develop it for housing or business. They claim this would add welcome tax revenues for the city. Other groups would like to see the amusement park demolished and the land used for tennis courts and a garden park.
Yet it seems that Playland, as it now stands, fulfills a number of the state’s coastal development ideals.
The amusement park appeals to hundreds of families, not just for the roller-coaster rides and fun foods, but for its vast picnic areas, its appeal as the county retreat of a Sunday resting place, and its beach and swimming areas. In spite of weekend crowds, the park is well-managed, with litter kept under control and visitors respecting the area. It clearly gives pleasure to a great number of people, whereas tennis courts and garden parks would serve only a few.
For naturalists who prefer walks in search of seasonal wild flowers and birds, there is an excellent area between Manursing Island and the lake’s border, which is virtually untouched. Over a hundred species of birds have been noted there, including long-eared and saw-whet owls and flickers. Snowy and American egrets are yearly summer visitors, and rare water birds can also be seen there.
There are improvements and could and should be made – including garbage dumps, a wider parkway entrance and better water management to protect fish.
But local waterfront areas become more and more valuable as energy supplies diminish. People will need to vacation nearer home, and what is appealing about an area like Playland is that there is plenty of variety, not only for crowds but also for loners. The area’s natural beauty is prefect for observation, photography, painting, and nature study.
Katherine Bregman of Port Chester is a Westchester native and member of the LIFE Center. For the last seven years, she has been photographing and writing about nature for Marshlands Conservancy, the Rye Nature Center and the Greenwich Audubon Society. (This article first appeared int he Mamaroneck Daily Times)