State officials may want to turn part of Camp Hero State Park in Montauk into a camping destination, with its sweeping panoramic views from atop the bluffs just west of Montauk Lighthouse, but several groups think that’s just one terrible idea.
New York State is considering allowing camping to occur on 3.3 acres, which would include tent camping, RV’s, Cabins and space for glamping, that would include expensive services for its guests.
While New York has a total of six state parks in Montauk, only one of them officially allows camping.
The 415-acre Camp Hero State Park, established in 1974, was used as a military base during During World War I, the Army stationed reconnaissance dirigibles, an airplane, troops, and Coast Guard personnel at Montauk. During World War II it was used by both the Army and the Navy as they expanded its use to Sea Planes, but when World War II ended, the base was temporarily shut down and used as a training facility by the Army Reserves. The naval facilities were largely abandoned, After World War II it was used as a NORAD Facility to help manage and direct military Aircraft while also playing as a surveillance facility.
The Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which is a grassroots environmental organization that protects the ocean from the Moriches Inlet east to Montauk Point, is also worried about the prospect of a new camping concession. “This is an environmentally sensitive area, with eroding and dangerous bluffs, that would not be well suited for significantly more use than it experiences now,” the foundation said in an Oct. 1 letter to Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.
The foundation laid out a total of five concerns it had, including the safety of campers near the crumbling bluff lines, and the impact to the bluffs themselves, some as high as 80 feet above sea level, from visitors not familiar with the area. Sewage and garbage management is also a concern.
Another major concern would be wether the state parks police have enough personnel to patrol yet another campground. This concern stems from the parks police complaining about a lack of staffing for years.
“We’re way understaffed,” said Manny Vilar, the founding president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State and its current vice president. Mr. Vilar, who lives in Springs, is running next month on the Republican and Conservative lines for a town board seat.
“The Montauk post is supposed to have five [parks] police officers assigned to it to cover 24-7, seven days a week,” he said. “Currently we only have two police officers assigned to Montauk, which does not provide any type of consequential nature. For all intents and purposes, we’re not covering it 50 percent of the time.” It is left to other law enforcement agencies, mainly the town police, he said, to pick up the slack.
The Montauk parks police post is responsible for patrolling nine state parks, including the Sag Harbor Golf Course, and the state parkway, which runs from Hither Hills to Montauk Point.
“As a P.B.A., we’re in support of the state expanding needed services,” Mr. Vilar explained. “We would never want to be the ones who were standing in the way of a local municipality’s economy or services to a state park.” However, he said, “Unless you get the coverage or the staff, we would highly discourage the state from proceeding.”
Bill Akin, a Montauk resident who frequently visits Camp Hero and who reviewed the R.F.P., said that while only 3.3 acres are being looked at for camping, “Nobody has said how many spaces or the target number of people. What are we talking about here in terms of numbers? . . . Even if they start low, what if they increase it? Once you let the camel get his nose in the tent, what’s next?”
The Montauk Fire Department’s emergency services are already stretched thin, Mr. Akin said. “The last thing they need to worry about is running out to Camp Hero in the middle of the night at the extreme end of their service area.”
“The Parks Department is forgetting that Montauk is overutilized,” he added. “We are full! It’s an already chaotic situation that nobody is able to put their hands around.”