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Grace Estate

Long Island: Nature Preserve


Once the site of three Native American villages and later part of the bustling port of Northwest Harbor, today Grace Estate has returned to its natural state.
Primarily oak-pine forest, the preserve is riddled with kettle-hole wetlands formed when huge blocks of ice deposited by the last glacier melted in place. The main trail leads through the woodlands, stopping by the preserve’s largest freshwater pond on the way to an historic home site with beautiful harbor views.Industrialist W. R. Grace acquired 845 acres in 1910, including about a mile of beachfront. In 1981, developers filed plans to create a summer community on the 500+ acres of remaining land, including condominiums, swimming pools, tennis courts, a golf course, and even a polo ground with stables. The first group to sound the alarm was the East Hampton Baymen’s Association, which predicted that the resulting pollution would destroy Northwest Harbor’s scallop fishery, the most productive on the East Coast.

After archaeologists citing the remains of three Native American communities and scientists documenting the land’s ecological significance made a strong case for preservation, acquisition of the estate was approved in a public referendum in 1985, and with $500,000 raised by The Nature Conservancy for a conservation easement, the Town of East Hampton purchased the land.

Grace Estate is a wonderful place to hike, bird and explore a piece of Long Island’s history. The trails are open for hiking and observing nature from dawn to dusk.

If you live locally and are interested in becoming a Preserve Monitor or Steward, please email Paul D’Andrea at pdandrea@tnc.org.

Prepare for your visit by looking over our Long Island preserve guidelines.

As you cross Old Northwest Road and enter the preserve, imagine this area full of activity, one of East Hampton’s first farming communities and its primary port. On the left is a dry kettle hole. If you’re visiting in late spring, wood pinks will be in bloom all along the path.

When the trail forks to the right, take the smallest of the paths down to Scoy Pond. (The trail marked by yellow triangles begins at Barcelona Neck and travels up to Cedar Point.) As you approach the pond, the number of plant species increases. Black gum and red maple dominate the canopy of the wetland community, where swamp azalea blooms in spring and sweet pepperbush perfumes the air with its fragrant flower spikes in mid- to late summer. A thick carpet of sphagnum moss edges the pond, and the pads and sweetly scented flowers of native water-lily can be seen on the surface of the water.

When you return to the main trail, you’ll hear many woodland birds, including ovenbirds and peewees. Eventually you’ll reach an open area where sun-loving red cedar is growing—an indication that this was once farmland or pasture.

If you continue another half mile or so, you’ll reach a sandy track. Head right on this path until another small trail opens out into a grassy spot with a picnic table overlooking the harbor. This is the former home site of Josiah Kirk, who owned a 600-acre farm here. Two large non-native lindens and a horse-chestnut tree are clues that this was once a homestead. Almost all the land within view is protected, including adjacent Barcelona Neck and Mashomack Preserve across the bay on Shelter Island. Back when Northwest Harbor was East Hampton’s main port, until Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf was built in the late 1700s, big schooners could be seen setting sail laden with cargoes of whale oil.

Continue along the beach and take the first path on the left into the woods until it rejoins the main trail. After walking slightly uphill for about a mile, you’ll reach a crossroad of five paths. The two marked by yellow triangles are the Barcelona Neck to Cedar Point trail. The path on the immediate right comes up from a wetland called Samp Hollow and a large boulder deposited by the glacier called Meeting Rock. For the shortest route back to the pull-off, take the main road to the left. 

This 516-acre preserve is located in East Hampton, Long Island, New York. 

Directions
  • From Easthampton, take Route 114 north.
  • Turn right onto Stephen Hands Path and proceed 1.25 miles.
  • Turn left onto Northwest Road and proceed 2 miles.
  • Turn right on Old Northwest Road.
  • In 1.5 miles, after a dip and a big curve on the road, there is a pull-off on the right. Opposite is the dirt road entrance to the preserve.
  • Note: If you hit Alewife Road, you have gone too far.
Discussion

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Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

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