The Saturday of our New York visit was a beautiful day to get outside. With no commitments until the evening we could get in a nice long walk. Hoping the Connetquot State Park would finally be open after being turned away two days before, we headed over to East Islip to try again. This time we met with success.
As we approached the park entrance, I noticed an egret resting near the river just inside the gate. Unfortunately, the best view was from the highway so we thought better of backtracking for a more advantageous view. Once inside the park, we spent some time planning our route. Although the gatekeeper had given us a sketched trail map, I had printed a more detailed map before our trip. After studying this map, we decided to follow the blue/red trail to where the blue trail made a sharp left. From there we would continue straight in order to make our return trip on the Greenbelt Trail.
In order to access the trails, we needed to pass the old hunting club built in the 1800s. The club catered to wealthy men of the Gold Coast Era, such as Vanderbilt, Bayard Cutting, Belmont and others. As we made our way towards the East side of the river, we paused to watch the swans and ducks floating on the pond. The combined red and blue trails kept close to the river at this point, and as we walked this section of the trail we found numerous skunk cabbage just peeking through the damp earth.
Wandering deeper into the park, we could hear the sound of chain saws in the distance, cleaning up the debris from the wind gusts of a few days ago. Perhaps, there had been enough debris down to justify closing the park . The trail we were on, definitely showed signs of recent clean-up work along the sides of the path.
Eventually, we followed the blue trail as it made the sharp left indicated on our map. Continuing straight towards the white Greenbelt Trail we soon crossed Bunces Bridge. On the far side of the bridge we found a pussy willow in bloom. It wasn’t long before we approached the fish hatchery. Here we stopped to take in the serenity of the water views before completing our walk of approximately 6 or 7 miles.
The trails throughout the park were typical of the sandy soil found in the Pine Barrens and I had forgotten the difficulties of trying to hike such soft dirt. But what was more disconcerting than sandy soil, was the fact that almost all of the Pitch Pines in the area seemed to be dead. Just a year or two ago, I had read that Southern Pine Beetles had made their way to Long Island, possibly as a result of warmer winters. A recent article this year estimated that about 75% of Pitch Pines in Connetquot State park alone, have been infested. Perhaps those early signs of Spring we encountered during this last week in February was not necessarily a good thing.