Guest column: What happened to my hometown?

I’ve had the privilege of growing up on the East End and I am sad to say that I no longer recognize my home. Over the course of my life, the East End has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. While I am aware this trend has been beneficial for local businesses, I believe we are reaching a tipping point. These past two years I have been away at college and the shock wave that hits me each time I come home for the summer has left me wondering what happened.

When I left for college two years ago the East End was still relatively intact. I could clearly see the stars at night, I could take my bike into the Village of Greenport or to my job, and I could read a book on my front porch and watch the world go by. For those who did not grow up on the North Fork these things are staples of summer living on this beautiful coastline.

Now two years later, I can’t do these things anymore. My dark, quiet neighborhood is currently lit up like a Christmas tree, the brightest lights coming from the homes that sit unoccupied during the week. These floodlights dampen the stars that used to light the late hours of the evening and I fear it won’t be long until we can’t see the stars at all.

Biking has always been my primary mode of transportation in the summer. It’s so beautiful out here — how could anyone sit in a car? I have come to the difficult realization that I may not be able to ride my bike beyond the confines of my subdivision anymore. The exponential increase in traffic has caused the Main and North roads to become so dangerous that riding my bike on either has caused me to pray for my life! 

Lastly, reading a book on my porch. It would seem surprising that I couldn’t do this, right? Well, right now as I am writing this from inside my house, I am listening to the roar of chain saws as my neighbor chops down all the trees on their property, and this has become the new normal. All week long I hear lawn mowers, weed wackers, leaf blowers (yes, in the middle of summer) and chain saws until Friday afternoon, when the weekenders make their trip to the North Fork.

The community I remember was a quiet, coastal one — you could see the stars at night, you could ride your bike to the farm stand, and you could read a book and hear the call of seagulls from your front porch. Trees were abundant, but now every time I come home I see the woods where my brother and I played in as children cleared out and a new house standing in its place. You could run through the farm fields and look at the otherworldly night sky, but now the farm fields are gated and even have cameras. Who puts cameras on their farm field? Is someone going to steal your cabbage? 

I have also noticed that more and more local businesses are solely dependent on tourism. This is quite different than when I left for school, as many local shops have shut down because they could no longer afford the rising local rents. 

I want to be clear that I do support tourism in this area, as many of my summer jobs were dependent on this, but we are all too rapidly taking a good thing too far and we will surely suffer the consequences of our indifference. If we obliterate the unique rural atmosphere and vulnerable resources we all depend upon for little things like our drinking water, how long will it be until this special place becomes just anyplace and the North Fork becomes indistinguishable from places the tourists are trying to escape? Have you been to the South Fork lately? That community was once very much like ours, but today has become a shadow of itself. 

I believe Southold Town and Greenport Village have a duty to the people who live here full time to prevent the North Fork from becoming the next Jersey Shore. I, too, would like to blame the tourists, that’s the easy thing to do, but the fact is many of them come from urban areas and just don’t know anything about living in a more rural environment.

They don’t know that chopping down all the trees in their yard doesn’t get rid of the tick problem, or that when they flush their toilet that waste will soon end up in Long Island Sound or Peconic Bay and cause pollution. Landscapers are not biologists and yet new homeowners rely on them for information on property management. These new owners need help, as they do not realize the fragility of the East End, and the town should be provided with information on how to manage their property sustainably. We need stricter zoning regulations to protect the land that has yet to be developed and proper enforcement of the regulations in place, such as the Southold Town lighting code. This code was designed to stop the urban light pollution that blocks the view of stars and is getting worse in my neighborhood every day. 

So here’s looking at you, and to you — it’s time to take some serious action otherwise. As a wise man and Bridgehampton farmer, Richard Hendrickson, once said, “You won’t have what you came for.”

The author is a Greenport High School graduate who currently attends Union College, where she is pursuing a double major in biology and music.