Nature Notes: Sore Spot on Hook Pond

An Eden of East Hampton
The small north part of Hook Pond, separated from the south by Dunemere Lane, is bordered by the best and most diverse freshwater wetlands of any that surround the pond. Durell Godfrey

Hook Pond has a hook in it, from top to bottom, from east to west. It could have just as easily been called boot pond or sock pond, but its shape is more like a leaning S. The name Hook Pond is at least 176 years old because that’s how it appears on a United States Coastal Survey map of 1838 showing most of East Hampton Village. The pond is divided by three west-to-east crossings, two of which are well maintained, the most northern one being a dirt road. This road separates the pond into two almost separate water bodies — the southern one, which is 83 acres in size, and the northern one, readily seen from Dunemere Road, only 2.5 acres in size. Both are owned by the East Hampton Town Trustees.

It is a shallow pond that used to be opened to the Atlantic Ocean each year the way that Georgica Pond still is today, twice a year. Since the early 1930s its dreen to the Atlantic Ocean has been blocked, and for almost as long it has been served by a one-way pipe to the sea. This pipe (now two pipes) has been replaced from time to time by East Hampton Village. During the annual openings, when it became tidal for a week or so, marine fishes, among them alewives and white perch, would leave and enter. Very large coastal storms — hurricanes and northeasters — from time to time would push ocean water up over the weir by way of the pipe, and the pond would become a bit saline for a while.

A study of the fishes in Hook Pond conducted some 40 years ago at the behest of the Hook Pond Association revealed largemouth bass, pumpkinseeds, carp, white perch, eels, and a few alewives. It is still more than likely that baby eels, or elvers, make it up the culvert into the pond each spring after making that long trip north from their birthing spot in the Caribbean Sea more than 1,000 miles away.

The pond receives rainwater runoff from the houses on surrounding parcels and beyond, as well as from the nexus of Cedar Street and North Main Street, which flows into the Nature Trail stream via a culvert under Pantigo Road, as well as from Town Pond, which has a culvert outlet at its south end that runs easterly under James Lane then into a dreen, which then makes its way to the west side of Hook Pond. Consequently, over the years the pond has received a lot of runoff sediments, as well as a host of nitrogenous products, phosphates, and minerals from fertilizers applied upgradient. The waste excretions from hundreds of waterfowl also help foul its waters, especially between the end of fall migration and the beginning of spring migration.

Miraculously, Hook Pond has yet to go belly-up, but it is not far from achieving such a fate. Let’s say it is still somewhat eutrophic, or rich in nutrients, but is rapidly becoming dystrophic, or lacking in nutrients. 

It was never oligotrophic as the very deep lakes — Baikal in Siberia and Lake Tahoe between Nevada and California — have been for decades. There is a very thick layer of silt in some spots in Hook Pond, not unlike the thick layers of silt at the north end of Accabonac Harbor. In recent times, because of excessive nutrition, the amount of fouling vegetation on the surface has overwhelmed the water celery and other pondweeds rooted in the bottom.

Yet Hook Pond is still quite scenic, especially for the golfers who play on either side of it and walk over it, and for those with houses along its western edges. There is a little bit of Hook, hardly an acre in size, on the north side of Dunemere Lane with a tiny sedge island in its middle. The connection between it and the part of the pond on the south side used to be more than 20 feet wide, but now is less than 15 feet wide and the two parts are now connected only by an opening under the road. The northern segment is not much better off than its southern counterpart, but is very rarely roiled up by sea breezes and so its water is much less turbid than the water in the larger part of the pond.

The best freshwater wetlands in terms of variety, health, and native-ness are those bordering each side of this northern spur. A few house lots border the northern spur, which eventually becomes the Hook stream that feeds the wonderful parkland it runs through, beginning on the north at Fithian Lane just south of the East Hampton Post Office. This wonderful little village park is occupied by a host of waterfowl all year around, as well as muskrats, deer, lots of songbirds, and other wild creatures and also some rare native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. 

This Eden of East Hampton has been recently described in text and photos in the wonderful little book by the same name by naturalist Dell Cullum. The Nature Trail is owned by the Village of East Hampton and is wonderfully maintained by the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society.

East Hampton Village owns almost all of the stream and wetlands, amounting to 36 acres. However, the only riparian emergent wetland along the entire corridor, just north of the Dunemere bridge, is owned by the Maidstone Club. On the west and east sides of the northern spur of Hook Pond are 50 and 30-feet-wide swaths of sedges, reeds, and other diminutive wetland plants including the ladies’ tresses orchid and other rare wildflowers. The club has kept this area from growing up into the phragmites admixture that dominates 90 percent of Hook Pond’s eastern and western edges by cutting it each year.

It has done a good job of preserving these two little strips of wetland plants, but now this same club wants to desecrate it by building a 7-foot-wide, 353-foot-long golf cart bridge mounted on 42 steel pilings, anchored 11 feet deep into the bottom from one side to the other. The little sedge island where swans and other waterfowl have nested in the past is not to be spared. 

Heavy equipment would be used to install this monstrosity, which will certainly stir up the bottom and shade a large portion of the wetlands. And for what purpose? So golfers playing the hole that is on one side with the tee-off spot on the other will not have to drive or walk on Dunemere Road to reach each side.

Desecrating this little pond-wetland area makes no sense as there has never been an accident to a golfer by a motorist recorded at this spot in the many years that the Maidstone Club has been in use. East of there, there are portions of the golf course on the north and south sides of Further Lane, the east side of Egypt Lane, and east and west of Old Beach Lane. Does that also mean that there would need to be special crosswalks to protect the golfers as they go from one side of these roads to the other? 

And how is it that the northern part of Hook Pond is not owned by the East Hampton Town Trustees? Before Dunemere Lane was constructed, the northern and southern parts were contiguous. The golf course and its clubhouse may be owned by the Maidstone Club, but the waters and their contents, flora and fauna, belong to the Freeholders and Commonalty of East Hampton. Granted, some of those Freeholders are club members, but the very large majority are not.