By Paul Hicks
Pullquote: A nature-filled oasis in a densely populated area.
Otter Creek Preserve is a 35-acre property located near Long Island Sound in the Rye Neck section of Mamaroneck. It had been owned since 1974 by The Nature Conservancy, but was transferred to the Westchester Land Trust (WLT) in April 2015. It is Westchester’s largest privately owned tidal wetland and nature sanctuary, as well as the WLT’s largest property in the southern part of the county.
The mix of coastal waters, marsh, wetlands, and woods makes the Preserve an important site for migratory birds as well as a home for a variety of resident wildlife. For walkers (leashed dogs are allowed), photographers, and nature lovers, the scenic preserve has a looped trail adjacent to the wetland that is about 3/4 of a mile long.
There is a clearing that provides an excellent view of an osprey-nesting platform, which was first erected in the mid-1990s, as well as of the extensive marsh that extends to Otter Creek. For a number of years osprey pairs have maintained a nest and raised chicks, all within easing viewing from the trailside where there is also a comfortable bench.
Although the vast majority of Long Island Sound’s natural shoreline in lower Westchester has vanished, Otter Creek Preserve provides visitors with a sense of the area’s natural heritage while preserving vital wildlife habitat, ecosystem functions and flood control in a densely populated region. Two years ago, WLT launched a program to enhance the Preserve by reducing invasive species while planting numerous native plants and trees.
Recently, WLT was one of 25 organizations in New York and Connecticut that received a highly competitive grant from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund. The grant allows WLT to restore twelve acres of the coastal woodland at Otter Creek Preserve. The work began in May, with a team of fifty volunteers helping staff members in planting more than 250 trees and shrubs representing fifteen different species.
Led by Tate Bushell, Director of Stewardship, and Shaun McCoshum, Preserve Manager and Educator, even more volunteers turned out between October 13 and 15 to plant over 300 additional native trees and shrubs, including oak, maple, black cherry, sweet gum, and tupelo trees, as well as serviceberry shrubs. Nearby neighbors, on Taylors Lane, generously provided water to irrigate all the new arrivals.
The recent grant will also support expanded outreach and educational programming at Otter Creek so that school groups and other local organizations can learn more about the value of the Preserve within the context of the greater Long Island Sound ecosystem. Several educational signs have been placed along the trail to help in the education process.
Shaun McCoshun improved my own education when I asked him whether the tall marsh grasses known as phragmites were native or invasive. He explained that the North American grass was commonly considered an invasive species, introduced from Europe. However, there is evidence of the existence of a native plant in North America long before European colonization of the continent. It is now known that the North American native forms are much less vigorous than European forms.
Rye and the surrounding area are fortunate to have the Preserve nearby, just off the Post Road in Mamaroneck at the end of Taylors Lane. After you spend time there, you will agree with Lori J. Ensinger, WLT's President: “Otter Creek Preserve, with its unique landscape and critical role that it plays in the health of Long Island Sound, is a stunning oasis in the middle of densely populated southern Westchester.”