Something Has to be Done at Trout Pond

It’s a sad truth that days of sun and surf in a beach community can quickly turn tragic, as drownings occur on an all-too-frequent basis. Recent fatalities and near-drownings have sparked debate on how to best protect bathers from the potential dangers of swimming in waters that are unmanned by lifeguards. But perhaps few town-owned beaches on the East End present as much of a challenge to lawmakers as Trout Pond in Noyac, which claimed a life over the Fourth of July weekend. Many bathers are unaware of the sudden, steep change in water depth that occurs within 20 feet of the boardwalk at Trout Pond.
“The water gets deep quickly,” says Carol Williams, who has been swimming in Trout Pond for 40 years. “It’s too deep to stand once you get about 10 to 20 feet away from the deck.”
However, it’s possible that the danger of Trout Pond could also come from its attractiveness to weak swimmers. The perceived risk of cooling off in a still body of water is relatively low when compared to the roaring waves of the Atlantic, especially to those unaware of the rapid change in depth at Trout Pond.
Larry Penny, the former East Hampton Town Director of Natural Resources, attests that Trout Pond is a man-made pond that was dug out at the end of a stream. A dam was placed on the upper, southern side, and a mill harnessed the power of the running water on the northern side. Trout Pond Park was born out of a community referendum, where voters opined for Southampton Town to buy the surrounding land. It was subsequently cleaned and has since been well used as a local swimming hole.
“It’s one of the few fresh ponds in Noyac, and it is also the only one where it is possible to swim,” says Penny.
The seemingly innocent body of water, which falls under the jurisdiction of Southampton Town, has no lifeguard, but posted warning signs indicate that bathers swim at their own risk. The Sag Harbor Express reports that Sag Harbor Fire Department Chief Pete Garypie recalls three drownings at Trout Pond since 2007.
While some members of the community look to close Trout Pond to swimmers, Williams sees posting warnings about the quick depth change and the addition of on-site flotation devices—similar to the torpedoes carried by lifeguards—as a more practical solution.
“The reality is, people are always going to swim in Trout Pond,” says Williams. “What would be helpful is a map detailing how quickly the water gets deeper and a floatation device with a rope attached to it for people on the boardwalk to throw out to someone in trouble.”
Penny confirms that the biggest danger is that it drops off quickly, but he also believes that it should remain open, as it has significant historical significance.
Awareness of the pond’s depth is key.
The pond most recently claimed a life on June 30, as non-swimmer Tyreef Benston of Queens drowned when swimming with his girlfriend. Reports indicate that the 26-year-old fell victim to the pond’s steep drop-off, as he tried to push his girlfriend into shallower water when she began to panic at the sudden change in depth.
Williams arrived at Trout Pond for a swim soon after the incident. She spoke to an eyewitness who was haunted by the sight of Benston struggled in the water but was helpless to do anything. Though everyday heroes may valiantly try to rescue a drowning victim, someone in a state of panic can also drown his or her rescuer. That should be reason alone to install a publicly available floatation device at Trout Pond, similar to the way popular local ice skating ponds are armed with ladders in case someone falls into the frigid waters.
“They could also set up markers to indicate where the water gets deeper,” says Williams. She maintains that the pond, with its fresh, clean water, is a beautiful place to swim but emphasizes that it’s important to be aware of the inherent risks that it presents.
“Especially with the boardwalk, Trout Pond is made to look like a great swimming place, but people need to know that there are dangers,” said Williams.

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