Fort Pond House Is Ready for Visitors

After a year of cleanup and restoration, the house at Carol Morrison Park on Fort Pond in Montauk will be reopened for use by community groups.

A four-acre East Hampton Town-owned waterfront park in Montauk named for the late Carol Morrison, an environmentalist who lived in that hamlet, is ready for public use after a lengthy effort to save it from being sold as surplus property and to restore a house there that had been used for environmental education, arts classes, and more.

East Hampton Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who led the restoration effort, credited town staff, committee members, and residents who donated work and materials with the successful yearlong renovation and restoration of both the house and grounds. Mr. Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby were key to blocking the sale of the acreage by former Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, but the house had been abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair. 

Known as Fort Pond House and later designated Carol Morrison Park, the site will be available to residents for events inside the house or on the grounds, and for access to Fort Pond. It is one of only two town-owned accesses to the freshwater pond, the second-largest body of freshwater on Long Island.

The property, at 128 Second House Road in Montauk’s Shepherd’s Neck area, will be open from dawn to dusk. Use of the house will be by appointment only, through the town Parks and Recreation Department, at a rental fee to be determined.

The town’s property management committee is developing a detailed management plan for the park.

A main room in the house can hold about 44 people, and a covered porch, which was rebuilt, provides additional space. The house has a working kitchen, and a handicapped-accessible bathroom, Councilman Van Scoyoc said this week. Interior partitions were removed, opening up the living room area, which includes an original stone fireplace — though its use will not be allowed, for safety reasons.

Carpets and linoleum in the house were removed, and Douglas fir and heart pine flooring refinished. Outdoors, overgrown stands of invasive species were removed.

Besides providing space for indoor educational and cultural activities, Mr. Van Scoyoc said the house will likely be made available on a “very limited” basis — perhaps twice a year, in the off-seasons only — for private parties such as weddings, with the town board’s consent and a town mass-gathering permit.

User fees, which will be set at different rates for nonprofit and profit-making groups, are expected to cover annual building maintenance costs, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, and a capital plan will be established for ongoing care of the site.

The property was bought by the town for $890,000 in 2003 from Lee Deadrick. Various community groups, including the Third House Nature Center and Montauk Boy Scouts, and the Montauk School used the house until it was closed abruptly under orders from former Supervisor Wilkinson, who had targeted it for sale along with other town assets such as the Montauk commercial fishing docks to help address a financial deficit.

The 2010 plan to sell the property, which was listed for $2 million but drew no offers, prompted widespread opposition by Montauk residents, and engendered state and federal lawsuits. One challenged the town’s right to sell the site, as public parkland may not be disposed of without state legislative approval; the other was a federal Constitutional rights case, now settled, against Mr. Wilkinson and former Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who were accused of retaliating against opponents of the sale.

Councilman Van Scoyoc, who presided over a “soft opening” of the park on Sunday, said in a press release that “recognizing the value of this property to our community, I am proud to have contributed to its restoration. The dedication and effort from our property management committee, several town departments, and donations from Men at Work, Concerned Citizens of Montauk, Warren’s Nursery, and Fort Pond Native Plants, have demonstrated the benefit of an effective public-private partnership.”

A formal ribbon-cutting, the councilman said this week, will take place in the spring. “It’s just a really beautiful spot,” he said. “People are excited about being there again using it.”