Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

Category: Sampawams Creek

A Sampawams Indian Story

A Neck of land that extended out into the bay was bounded by two streams that flowed down from the hills up north. These two streams ran straight with no meanders. The neck became known for the chief of a small clan of people who called themselves the Sampawams which means walks- straight- as- an- arrow. Living on the neck, the two creeks guided the people to hunting grounds. All they had to do was follow the water and they would never become lost because the stream led them back to their shelter.

Estuary – Sampawams Creek: Fresh and Salt Water Meet

While I taught science, I fell in love with the Nissequogue River, a few blocks from where I lived. Eventually I turned my enthusiasm into a book titled THE NISSEQUOGUE: A JOURNEY. As a naturalist, I started the project by exploring. This led to research and interviews, historical information, old maps, etc.

During one of my final teaching years, I had one horrible day in the classroom when everything went wrong. I recall a helpless feeling. During that moment, I imagined myself having a sail boat on the Great South Bay. This has come true and it opened up my curiosity about Sampawams Creek. The result has been a love affair, a David and Goliath story. This creek is an underdog and I love to root for the underdog.

I moved to Babylon Village after marrying Nancy Keating. She owns a home across the street from Sampawams Creek. I can see Southards Boat Yard from an upstairs window. One day, an old 1929 bay boat showed up in the yard. It had sunk in the creek. Mike, the owner, purchased it, rescued it, and restored it. I watched the process with interest While I was sketching the boat, that classroom dream kicked in.

East Creek

On Sampawams Creek, work boats
Known as garveys,
A type of boat with flat decks fore and aft,
Built for clam diggers to stand and work
With long tongs to grab the bay bottom
To hoist and spill the contents
Hard shell clams that clunk the deck
As open tongs release quahogs.
Washed, sorted, baged,
This is real work, hard work, good work
As long as the clams are there

Work Creek, Sampawams Creek now,.
There are only a few clam boats left,
Now mostly fiberglass pleasure boats


There are precious few opportunities for Babylon, West Islip, North Babylon, and West Brentwood residents to actually see the fresh, flowing water of Sampwams Creek.

I parked at the dead end of Village Line Road off Deer Park Avenue. From the car, I caught my first glimpse..  A drain at the curb  funnels rain water runoff through an 18 “ concrete pipe into the stream. The edge was muddy. The recent drought has lowered the water table, so the creek is carrying less water. The volume of water flowing determines its speed. Leaves floating on the far side were barely moving.

The water was making its way to the brackish esturary portion just south of Montauk Highway. I estimate that the width at this point to be about 35 feet. Overhanging tree branches  on both sides had me feeling optimistic for  what I may expect further upstream. I decided to explore the stream as far as I could  by wading this creek as far as possible.

This is a beautiful place except for the fact that I could hear cars wising by no Route 231 just east of the creek. Not many people know much about the fresh water portion of Sampwams Creek. I asked a resident who was walking nearby. He was not even aware that the stream was there.

Sad too, for me, is the fact that the creek is considered as a dumping ground accepting water that accumulated litter, pollutants, fertilizers, and pesticides. In some places, creeks and streams of this size are protected by being buffered with forest. Here on Long Island, developers have been able to build houses with backyards right up to the banks which eliminates access. If you can’t see the stream, you can’t care about it. I only discovered this access point by looking on a local map.

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