The first campaign to preserve Hither Woods dates back to the early 1980s when environmental groups and concerned citizens united to save the land from private developers. Hither Woods consists of 1,357 acres of undisturbed oak and hickory forest, crossed with laurel-lined trails, and over 2 miles of coastline along the Block Island Sound. In 1982, Sun Beach Real Estate and Dune Associates respectively owned the entire uninhabited tract of land. Both developers proposed to subdivide the land and construct luxury single-family homes and condominiums. The threat of private development ignited a call to action from community members to advocate for the Hither Woods’ addition to the adjacent Hither Hills State Park.
In response to the development plans, Rick Whalen and Tom Ruhle organized The Coalition for Hither Woods, an umbrella organization combining efforts of the Group for the South Fork (now called the Group for the East End), Concerned Citizens of Montauk, and dedicated community members like activist and conservationist Charlene Briand. The efforts of the group are illuminated in the Charlene Briand Papers in the Montauk Library Archives. The coalition fought to protect Montauk’s last wilderness for its freshwater groundwater supply, undisturbed habitat for wildlife, and recreational activities including hiking, hunting, biking, skiing, and horseback riding. Among their efforts, many of which are documented in the library’s collections, the group sent out informational materials to residents, wrote letters to the editors of local papers, and contacted local and state legislators.
The campaign pressured the Town of East Hampton to consider purchasing the entire 1,357-acre tract of land. On election day, November 2, 1982, voters in the Town of East Hampton voted to approve the expenditure of $1.5 million in town funds to help acquire Hither Woods. However, the developers wanted more money for the land and it took twenty years to piece together a 1,357-acre public parkland through a series of purchases made in partnership between the Nature Conservancy, the state, the county, and East Hampton Town.
Fast forward to today: East Hampton Town has proposed a land swap with the county that would allow it to develop a wastewater treatment plant in Hither Woods. In opposition to this plan, the Coalition for Hither Woods has been revived. The mission statement on its website indicates that the coalition remains true to the goals that were defined in the Charlene Briand Papers:
“To protect and preserve the land area known as Hither Woods in Montauk, New York, as parkland, natural habitat, and open space for the benefit of animal and plant species indigenous to Hither Woods, for the protection of Montauk’s freshwater aquifer and drinking water resources, and for human enjoyment and appreciation…”
The Charlene Briand Papers are open for research and can be used within the library under the supervision of the archivist. Click here to read more about the collection.