We waited a day for the trails to dry after the torrential rain, before setting out for Brookhaven State Park in Wading River. We seem to visit this park quite often, possibly because it is easy enough to get to after work and provides several hiking opportunities. During World Wars I and II, this land was part of military training facility known as Camp Upton. Camp Upton later became Brookhaven National Laboratory. The lab deeded roughly 1600 acres to the state around 1971 and finally became a maintained park around 2004.
The gate to the parking lot closes at 4pm but there is enough room to park off the road and walk through a pedestrian cut-out in the fence after hours. Once inside, we stopped at the kiosk to examine the trail map and decided to hike the red trail which, a distance of about 3.7 miles. The first part of the trail is a wide woodland road and there are some indications that this was a continuation of the existing paved roads/highways outside the park. In fact, these “roads” inside the park are actually named on MapQuest.
The first section of the hike was through a wooded area of oaks and other deciduous trees, with an undergrowth of blueberry bushes and ferns. I noticed that here and there was the occasional fern that had turned yellow and brown. Summer had not even begun so they could not be turning color due to the end of the season! I wondered if it was from to too much rain, poor soil, disease or insect infestation but found it odd the quite often the yellowing specimen was in the middle of other healthier plants.
The character of the woods changed as we entered a section that was more in the pine barrens, with an undergrowth of sapling scrub oak. Here, the path became sandy which seems to be a common feature of many of the trails located in central and eastern Long Island. I detected a movement at the side of the trail and stopped to investigate. If we had not stopped to search for the cause of movement we would have easily overlooked the Fowlers Toad as he blended in with the dead leaves.
Eventually, we reached the far north end of the park and proceeded on the trail that ran along the perimeter of the park. We still enjoyed a sense of being connected with nature, since the land on the opposite side of the fence was also designated as a town preserve. In fact, there was the occasional cut in the fence so that hikers could explore the trails on the other side.
As we reached the yellow Brookhaven Trail, which cuts through the middle of the park, we found our first flowering bush. The flowers were very similar to blueberry flowers but it could have been a Piedmont Staggerbush. This plant was taller than the blueberry plants and it’s flowers were larger.
Shortly after this find, the trail headed south. This portion of the red trail was not as pleasant since it was adjacent to the highway and we had to put up with the road noise. But even here, there were surprises in store. I discovered a fallen branch that rose from the underbrush like a ghostly hand pointing the way. Further on, the landscape changed for a third time as the underbrush gave way to a grassy meadow and we left the pine barrens behind.
After 2 hours, the red trail joined the wide woodland road once more.