As if traveling along the scorched shoreline of the River Styx, we were dismayed recently by what we saw among the wrack at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett. The season’s first meaningful storm had dredged up a summer’s worth of bonfire remains. Blackened logs and chunks of burned wood littered a full third of a mile to the west — in December.
There were few other signs of human presence, save for a few footprints. Litter was at a minimum, except for a suspiciously high number of Corona beer caps and what apparently was the accidental losses of children’s toys. Several dozen yellow roses had drifted ashore, the result perhaps of a heartfelt memorial? But the appalling prevalence of bonfire detritis among the sea grass and shells left us saddened, upset that beachgoers would leave such messes behind and profoundly disappointed in the town officials who let this happen. It is much the same at the town’s other popular beaches.
Gripped by a nostalgia for decades gone by, those responsible for setting policy have blinded themselves to the reality of the present age. We wonder if the members of the East Hampton Town Trustees may not walk these same shores themselves. And the town board — we cannot believe that these unbroken rills of charred wood are how its members want to present our most-cherished asset to residents and visitors. We doubt they need to be really afraid of a bonfire-loving backlash at the November polls. So why the inaction?
Clearly, it is unpractical to ask town employees to enforce the existing no-burying regulation or make sure that the remains of fires are dug up the morning after. More must be done. For guidance, town officials need look no farther than East Hampton Village and the Town of Southampton, which have both in recent years instituted rules that all fires have to be within metal containers. These beaches are cleaner as a direct result.
It is completely unacceptable for beaches to be so mistreated and for a winter’s walk to be so disheartening. The trustees and town board need to recognize that times have changed and to work on new rules that take into account the much more intensive uses to which our public lands are subjected. There may still be a few places where uncontained bonfires are appropriate, but East Hampton Town’s most popular ocean and bay beaches are not among them.