A Conversation with Carol Williams of the Friends of Havens Beach

Carol Williams. Peter Boody photo

The Friends of Havens Beach, of which Carol Williams is a founder, will present an “Indoor Field Trip to Havens Beach” on Sunday, January 20 at 3 p.m. at the John Jermain Memorial Library. Jean Held is preparing a slide show for the event that will give the human and natural history of the beach, including current conditions, and “a look into better future,” according to Ms. Williams, who talked with the Express about the village’s only public bathing facility. An edited transcript of some high points follows:

Who are the Friends of Havens Beach?

We are a group of people that has coalesced over the last year or two, and especially ever since dredge spoil was pumped onto on the beach from Long Wharf in the fall of 2017. We’re all people who really love Havens for very different reasons … I think some of us feel we wouldn’t be living here if there wasn’t the Havens Beach. It’s much more than open space. It’s a living connection to nature. The Friends feel that Havens Beach needs somebody to speak for it as a living thing.

What’s the history of the property?

The beach was a gift to the village from Lila Havens in 1923. And a lot has changed since 1923. The gift included the beach and 20 acres that surround it, which is actually the largest open space in the village that belongs to the village. It was given for quiet recreation, which was extremely far-sighted because, back then, you could go to the beach anywhere.

What’s your history here?

I grew up in London but moved to New York as a girl when my mother married an American. I came to Sag Harbor in 1972 right after I finished college at MIT with a bachelor’s degree in science and architecture and I actually thought I was going to work for the UN. I was going to get into environmental planning on a global scale. I was connected to the East End in various ways but the person I met who gave me a place to live in her brother’s house was [local environmentalist and historian] Nancy Boyd Willey. She had just started the Planning Board. It was new. She said you could have a room in my brother’s house, the Cooper Boyd house next to her house [the Annie Cooper Boyd House], for $5 a week, in exchange for being the secretary of the Planning Board. So I did that. They didn’t have a map to plan with. And I said I could make one for them. It turned out I could with help from Suffolk County’s aerial photos. But it involved that whole winter walking the streets of Sag Harbor. That’s when I fell in love with the village.

Do village officials recognize there’s an issue at Havens Beach?

I do think they’re beginning to. I have to say they’re responsive. We did go and see them after the dredging. The dreen or drainage swale through the property actually got closed off and we spoke to them about it. [Public Works Superintendent] Dee Yardley, who probably works harder than anybody else, he’s got an enormous job to take care of the roads, the snow, the sewage plant. And I think it’s too much to ask of him to also consider the environmental context of the beach. But somebody has to.

How was the dredge spoil a problem?

I believe there was more than anybody anticipated, forcing the village to remove the beloved playground and benches. They dug a big trench, put the sand to one side and, in theory, the dredge spoil was going to go in the trench and they were going to cover it up with the sand but, in reality, there was more and more and more … That’s what woke people up to the need to pay more attention.

Who’s coming to your ‘field trip?’

We have invited the Village Board because we initially invited them to go for a walk with us to the beach and we realized it’s just going to be too cold. So we thought this would be nice. And hopefully a lot of people from the public will come. Really, I’m thinking that the beach was given to Sag Harbor in 1924 so 2024 will be its centennial. Wouldn’t it be nice if we have in place by then a cohesive plan for how to restore the beach, how to preserve the beach?