Long Island was once a a sprawling forest of hardwoods that eventually gave way in the east to the deep and wonderful Pine Barrens. This glacial deposit was left behind millions fo years ago, before man walked these lands, in smooth sandy drifts and moraines, dotted with erratics brought down from the Upper Hudson Valley. Revered for its beautiful deciduous forests and coastal plains Long Island has become a place treasured by its residents and longed by people who visited. In the current times Long Island is falling into urban development and sprawl. Imagine the island of Manhattan when the indigenous people lived amongst the pines and coastal scrub and foraged for oysters and blue claws under the serenity of nature. That is a long faded memory even for the history books. There is a fight to preserve what is left of the natural places and wild scapes here and as long as we can still fight we will have beautiful places to let go of our lives in the rat race and breath in some woodland air or salty breezes.
Cranberry Bogs Nature Preserve
This little park is a hidden gem out in Riverhead. The park is what remains of an abandoned cranberry-growing operation and remnants of the mill are still there. The 165-acre preserve serves as part of the drainage system of the Peconic River and is a natural reservoir for Long Island's fresh water supply. Our favorite thing about the park is that it's the largest remaining stands of Atlantic White cedars on Long Island. The trails start in wide sandy paths, lined on both sides by the low growing cranberry plants. You enter the pine shaded forests that eventually lead you into the wetlands where the dark cedar forests take over. The trail meanders around Swezy Pond and at the west end of the lake Little River flows out into Wildwood Lake. There is a nice little bridge you can take a break on that gives you a nice view into the cedars swamps (Just a note that the bridge was destroyed in Superstorm Sandy and is now rebuilt).
San Souci County Park
You could miss this one if you didn't know about it. Tucked in between Broadway Ave. and Sunrise Highway in Sayville, this little patch of woodlands is as diverse as it is beautiful. We fortunately live within a mile so we know it like the back of our hands. Mostly consisting of oak scrub and pitch pine forests, the wide trails start on level ground and then eventually descends into a small valley with a stream that runs into the San Souci Lakes and eventually out to the Great South Bay. Most trails are wide and the hikes are easy. If you are inclined to do a run on the bike it is a quick but invigorating ride. The south end of the park meanders around Camp Edey Girl Scout Camp and there are very cool land bridges that connect the east and west banks. In the spring is a pretty magical site to see the first green popping from the skunk cabbage and cinnamon ferns. If you look closely you might find the elusive and very rare orchid, Pink Lady Slipper. This past summer, near the end of September, the forest floor was literally covered in Indian Pipe Stem - a wonderful little plant that looks like a mushroom but is really just a plant that has no chlorophyll (fun fact).
Hubbards County Park
This is nice, short hike and truth be told it isn't the most stand out forest we've hiked on Long Island but it does have one very special thing that other parks do not. When you hike from Flanders road through the hardwood oak and beech forests you will get to Flanders Bay. The view out over the Peconic is spectacular. Along the waterline you will find what look to be ordinary old stumps sticking out of the sand but these are not just ordinary stumps. These are Atlantic White Cedar that nearly 4000 yrs ago fell victim to rising salt water...that's right 4000 yrs old! The only existing living stands are scarce on LI and very protected. This ghost forest is now a fossilized (sort of) snapshot of what this landscape used to look like.
Connetquot State Park
This preserve is a well known to hikers, fly fishers, equestrian folk and for just a nice little afternoon visit. You can feel the quiet history in the air. Home to the South Side Sportsmen's Club, a recreational club that catered to the wealthy Long Island businessmen like William Bayard Cutting and W.K. Vanderbilt during the gold coast era, the main clubhouse are now included on the National Register of Historic Places. Wide trails meander around the Connetquot River and the Main Pond, cutting through beautiful forests. Take the Hatchery Road and visit the trout hatchery where they stock browns and rainbows...watch above for osprey looking for an easy meal. Natural meadows are abound on the west side of the park. Bring your binoculars you bird watchers! There are nearly 3500 hundred acres you can explore that represent LI's beautiful forests.
Being a preserve there is no spraying or controlled insect program so wear long pants, lather up in bug repellant and stay on the trail!
Fire Island National Seashore - The Lighthouse
What magic this wonderful Atlantic seashore is! Growing up on LI is special when you can bask in the shadow of this beautiful lighthouse (No.695 on the national register). Park at Field 5, all the way to the east, and you can walk a short distance up the beach or follow the boardwalks through the soft dunes and junipers. If you go in early summer the wooly golden heather is in full bloom and if you go late summer you might just catch the monarch butterflies pooling in gorgeous droops on the ends of cedar branches before their long trip to Mexico. There are seemingly endless miles of white sand beaches...take a dip in the cool waves or stroll on the more quiet bayside. Pay a few bucks and climb the 185 ft stone tower (still functioning) and look out into endless blue in all directions. If you're up for the extra half mile or so you can visit Kismet, a quaint little seaside town. There is a lot to see and a ton of history to soak up at this park and thats just one small part of Fire Island. This place isn't just for sun and sand lovers but you can sure get enough of that as well.