Southampton Trails Preservation Society
Content copyright 2015. SOUTHAMPTON TRAILS PRESERVATION SOCIETY All rights reserved.
We Are A 501(C)(3) Not For Profit
P.O. Box 1171
Bridgehampton, NY 11932
|Kurt "Nature" Billing
March 21, 1992
January 24, 1962 - February 3, 2009
Kurt Billing spent much of his life marching through the woods or battling in board rooms to get more woodlands protected for
others to march through. So when he died last fall, his friends, most of them like-minded crusaders for environmental protection,
decided to do something to ensure his memory would live on.
It seemed only natural to find a special piece of the East End that could bear his name.
And there were few places on the East End more special to Kurt Billing than the swath of woodlands and swamps that stretch
north from the Tuckahoe School to the waters of Big Fresh Pond, where he grew up. Hidden amid the deciduous forest, in the
wider-than-apparent stretches of undeveloped land between subdivisions, are groves of beech trees, vernal pools that are
home to salamanders and a variety of other rare amphibians, some rare surviving sprouts of native American chestnuts—and a
low hill summit that affords hikers breathtaking views sprawling as far as the Connecticut coast.
“This is one of those little nooks on the East End that people just don’t know about, even people that live right in the
neighborhood,” said Mike Bottini, a naturalist and close friend of the late Mr. Billing, who led an effort to refurbish and rename
the 150-acre preserve and a broad system of hiking trails that snake through it in honor of Mr. Billing. “I love this spot. You can
see red-tailed hawks cruising and you’re looking down on them from up here. It’s really amazing.”
Mr. Bottini and a broad network of Mr. Billing’s friends banded together to spruce up the Tuckahoe Woods Preserve, which Mr.
Billing helped create, particularly the summit of Tuckahoe Hill. It was from that hilltop that Mr. Billing perched himself on a
painter’s ladder in the 1980s and took a series of photos which, when stitched together, showed a stunning 360-degree vista
almost entirely free of signs of human development. That image helped convince county legislators to kick in the money to
preserve the land around it.
Today, the trees mostly obscure the view to the south, but because the land to the north slopes away steeply, into the hollow of
North Sea, the views to the north still span nearly 180 degrees west to east. The dense vegetation completely hides any signs
of the thousands of homes that dot the area and, except for a grain silo at Louis Bacon’s estate on Cow Neck, there is hardly a
manmade structure visible in any direction. The sandy bluffs of Robins Island and the waters of Peconic Bay and Shelter Island
Sound are the only breaks in the carpet of green.
The hilltop itself is owned by Southampton Village and has long been used as a brush dump, composting site and as the target
shooting range for the Southampton Village Police Department—circumstances that pose a number of significant hurdles to the
maintenance of the summit of this hiking trail.
Huge piles of tree stumps line the dirt road leading to the hill, but Mr. Bottini worked with village officials to slowly clean up
portions of the property so that the hiking trail may cross the summit, circumventing the areas still used by the village.
Jay Huber, a college friend of Mr. Billing, raised nearly $10,000 for the improvements to the trail, Mr. Bottini said. Atop the summit
is a circular concrete pad, the foundation of a World War II era observation post. Part of the plan for the memorial trail was to build
a small observation tower on the pad, so other visitors can take in the sight that Mr. Billing found so enthralling. However,
Southampton Village has objected to this project, so the pad remains unrefurbished.
Tuckahoe Woods might not even exist if not for Mr. Billing. While in his late 20s, the man nicknamed “Nature” in high school
spearheaded the effort to corral town and county officials into preserving the land, which is home to rare spade-foot frogs and
spotted salamanders and ecologically sensitive beech groves.
Tuckahoe Woods was not his first crusade. He had already been instrumental in the preservation drives for large portions of the
area around Big Fresh Pond Road, including a parcel that he personally took out a loan to purchase and preserve through the
Peconic Land Trust, fund-raising to pay back the loan. He was a founder of the Southampton Trails Preservation Society, a
member of the town’s Trials Advisory Board, and sat on the board of directors of the then-Group for the South Fork.
The Tuckahoe Woods Preserve is now connected with the large Tuckahoe Swamp Preserve and to trails that snake north to a
stretch of preserved land capped by the pond-front parcel Mr. Billing preserved with his personal loan, now owned by the
Peconic Land Trust. “It would be nice if we had a way to take people over to Big Fresh Pond,” Mr. Bottini said. “That was the
ultimate spot for Kurt. It would connect two sacred spots in Kurt’s mind.”
View to Big Fresh Pond
from the north end of the
Tuckahoe Woods Trail