Five Great Earth Day Moments in the Pine Barrens

By: Ryan Wolf

Earth Day is a time to reflect on the overarching significance of the natural world on our daily lives. Forty-nine years after the first Earth Day, people must still remind themselves that each and every day is Earth Day and a healthy and sustainable environment is a right for everyone. For the Long Island Pine Barrens, Earth Day has produced some memorable events in the past few years. While it is impossible to recap all of them, here are the top five best Earth Day moments in the Long Island Pine Barrens in recent memory:

Planting & Hike In the Pine Barrens, 1996 –
Only eight months following the 1995 Sunrise Fires that scorched thousands of acres of Pine Barrens, Earth Day 1996 was a memorable time for Long Islanders to reclaim their Long Island Pine Barrens. On the day, Long Islanders, including a local Girl Scout troop, helped to plant 10,000 trees to replace those destroyed in the 1995 blaze. Other Long Islanders chose to take a hike, with dozens of outdoor enthusiasts appreciating the Pine Barrens on a two day, twenty mile hike. Only three years after the Pine Barrens Protection Act and less than a year after the worst natural disaster to afflict the ecosystem, Earth Day 1996 serves as a testament to the Long Island Pine Barrens’ eternal status as Long Island’s very own “Central Park”. For this reason, Earth Day 1996 perhaps is the most memorable Earth Day for the Long Island Pine Barrens.

2. Westhampton Land Acquisition, 2005 – The Westhampton Dwarf Pine Plains section of the Long Island Pine Barrens may be the region’s rarest feature. With only two other similar examples in the entire world, the Dwarf Pine Plains has been a key part of the Pine Barrens preserve. On Earth Day 2005, an agreement to preserve 309 more acres of these Dwarf Pine Plains was announced by then-Governor George Pataki at Quogue Wildlife Refuge. The acquisition represented nearly half of the current 788 acre property in Westhampton. These types of essential acquisitions have contributed to the realization of the dream that brought about the original creation of the 1993 Pine Barrens Protection Act.

3. Save the Earth Contest, 2005 –  The Long Island Pine Barrens is not owned by anyone generation. It will inherited by future generations and, while those of us today must protect it, future generations must develop a conservation ethic. This was the logic behind the Society’s 2005 “Save the Earth” essay writing and poster contest. Partnering with the KeySpan Foundation for the 35th anniversary of Earth Day, the Pine Barrens Society invited students to develop their environmental appreciation, with  fourth and fifth graders invited to create posters and seventh and eighth graders asked to write essays based on the prompt “Name one of today’s greatest environmental challenges and what can be done about it?” The contest produced dozens of great projects and ideas from young environmental leaders, which were showcased during an Earth Day ceremony with legislators and environmental leaders. While the students who participated in the event are now in their middle and late twenties, it is clear that this contest helped to produce a conservation ethic in each participating student and created lifelong memories.

4. Carmans River Land Acquisition, 2011 – In 2011, amidst the Pine Barrens Society’s fight to save the Carmans River and the Pine Barrens land adjacent to it, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation announced the acquisition of 99 acres of Pine Barrens along the headwaters of the Carmans River. Formerly known as the Gene’s Four Seasons parcel, the property had represented on the largest remaining privately held parcels within the Pine Barrens’ Core Preservation Area – where no development is allowed. The acquisition marked a significant step in the protection of the entire boundaries of the Long Island Pine Barrens set forth within the Pine Barrens Protection Act. The land is now open to the public for passive recreation, including hiking

5. Long Island Clean Water Seminar, 2018 – Long Island’s water quality crisis has been described as the region’s greatest challenge. In 2017, the Pine Barrens Society called for a “Clean Water Moonshot” in which a collective effort would be undertaken to reverse the trend of declining water quality. In 2018, with the 25th anniversary of the Pine Barrens Protection Act, which protected the ecosystem overlying the purest drinking water on Long Island, the Society was proud to participate in a “Clean Water seminar”. Hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington, the seminar featured the Pine Barrens Society, The Nature Conservancy and Stony Brook University, all prominent members and founders of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, as well as New York Assemblyman Steven Englebright. The event served as a great reminder of the collaboration between all levels of government, and all different organizations needed to overcome Long Island’s water crisis.

Today, on Earth Day, Long Islanders should reaffirm their commitment to conserving the environment. Through this effort, the Long Island Pine Barrens will continue to have countless Earth Day memories for years into the future.