This has not been a banner year for land buys using money from the community preservation fund in East Hampton. While the fund has been raking in unprecedented sums, thanks to a real estate boom by people fleeing Covid-19 concerns, on the town’s side, things have been quiet.
The slowdown is not because there is nothing left to save. The town land management office maintains a property-by-property wish list of recommended acquisitions. These include prime recreational acreage, some of it ocean or bayfront, environmentally sensitive areas, places where the goal would be water protection, and others where keeping undeveloped space is in the neighborhood’s interest.
Another purpose to which the fund can be put is obtaining parcels to connect already saved land to others. This would allow for contiguous wildlife habitat as well as important expansion of the town’s vast trails system. Then there is historic preservation, another important use to which the fund can be applied. Maps for each hamlet are checkerboarded with sites on the official list.
An emerging priority that cannot in good conscience be ignored is locating a lost Freetown Black cemetery that was said to have held about 20 graves somewhere near the Neighborhood House on Three Mile Harbor Road. A single headstone survives, for Ned, who had been enslaved but died free in 1817. In a 1935 description in The Star, the then-superintendent of highways described it briefly, recalling counting 19 or 20 unmarked mounds. There is also the possibility of getting the Freetown Church out of private hands and back to a location of respect. East Hampton has ignored its colonial and early republic Black citizens for too long; the preservation fund could help correct this omission.
Considering the present real estate rush, there is no time to waste when it comes to land buys. The town board really needs to step it up — and soon.