Cowboys and German spies roamed the beaches of the Hamptons

Montauk turned 41st Annual Fall Festival last weekend with a clam chowder contest, pumpkin painting, crab races and all day farmers markets. Many visitors undoubtedly enjoyed the festival, but they may not have known about the unique and relatively unknown state park just before entering the hamlet at the east end of Long Island’s South Fork.

Like neighboring towns in the Hamptons, Hither Hills State Park features beautiful ocean and bay beaches. It also offers rolling hills and “walking” dunes and was – believe it or not – the site of America’s first cattle ranch.

So imagine the surreal image of cowboys, from the 17th century, driving herds of cattle over a sandy seaside forest wedged between the ocean and the bay about 110 miles east of the Empire State Building of Manhattan.

Poachers, disguised as fishermen, have set their sights on grazing cattle, and their breaking of the law has become a national problem. President George Washington built the nearby Montauk Lighthouse not only to guide boats, but also to keep an eye out for thieves.

In 1942, about 150 years later, other unwanted authors came to Hither Hills. Four German spies were dropped on the beach by a U-boat in foggy Napeague Bay. They planned to blow up bridges and railroads, making it difficult to transport supplies to military aircraft production plants on Long Island.

A coastguard officer saw them digging trenches to hide their military uniforms and TNTs. The spies failed with a bribe to silence the officer and escaped on a train to New York.

Two spies surrendered during an intensive manhunt and provided information on the whereabouts of their colleagues. The spies also informed law enforcement officials that other German spies had invaded Florida. All the spies were apprehended and executed, and the two who surrendered were deported to Germany.

Today, the action at Hither Hills State Park is provided by natural wonders. Wind currents constantly change the size and location of parabolic dunes covered with trees and shrubs. Some dunes migrate southeast, and some are 50 feet high, the tallest on Long Island.

The park offers visitors scenic picnic areas and fire pits, fishing, and a 189-site campground next to the Atlantic Ocean. There are also bridleways and walking, cycling and cross-country ski trails. Choose one or more of nine scenic trails suggested by

James R. Rhodes