Avalon Park & Preserve

Location: Stony Brook, NY

Size: 140 acres

Date of hike: Jan. 27, 2018

It's probably safe to say that Avalon Park & Preserve is among the most popular parks and preserves in Suffolk County, if not all of Long Island.  And that's probably because it has something for everyone: a picturesque pond with a beautiful wooden boardwalk, cool thought-provoking outdoor artwork, and (of course) good old-fashioned hiking trails.  But that's just scratching the surface.  It's also the kind of place where you'll find everyone from dog walkers to mountain bikers to even yoga and astronomy lovers.  We'll get to that a little later though.  First, let's start with a historical look at this magical park called Avalon.

For starters, Avalon was created by the Paul Simons Foundation.  Paul Simons was a man who grew up on Long Island and spent much of his time in the Three Village area, according to the park's website.  He is described as an avid hiker, skier and bicyclist and the park was created with a goal of reflecting his love of nature and the outdoors.  "Avalon was established to celebrate the life of Paul Simons, whose years among friends and family were prematurely interrupted, yet whose spirit and creative energy remain vibrantly alive in the natural world he cherished," the website said.  It also calls the park a "re-creation of the natural environment that greeted the first indigenous people to settle New York State."  The park area itself was once a residential site, probably abandoned in the early 1900s, the website said.  By 1997, when the foundation purchased the land, years of neglect had left it "virtually impenetrable."  Landscape architecture firm Andropogon Associates suggested transforming the property into a series of woodland gardens and paths that celebrate the native flora of Long Island.


There are multiple ways to enter Avalon Park & Preserve.  The main entrance is located on Harbor Road, just a stone's throw west of Main Street, with visitors parking on the roadside.  There are also several entrances along Shep Jones Lane, which is a dirt road that basically runs down the center of the park and preserve from north to south.  I parked in a gravelly lot big enough to fit about a dozen cars near the northern end of Shep Jones, just south of the intersection with Harbor Road.  Before exploring, it's important to know there are three main parts to Avalon: Avalon Park, Avalon Preserve and East Farm Preserve.  Avalon Park spans eight acres and includes the pond, a wooden boardwalk and the Labyrinth, which is a spiral-shaped stone footpath.  Avalon Preserve is 76 acres and features fields and forests that link to Avalon Park by the 0.3-mile red trail.  Lastly, East Farm Preserve takes up the remaining acreage and is a property of the Nature Conservancy, according to Avalon's online trail map.

My first destination during this visit (and my past visits in which I was joined by dog walkers) was Avalon Park.  After parking in Shep Jones Lane's gravelly lot, I hiked the aforementioned red trail east across Rhododendron Road to a series of paved paths leading to the Labyrinth, which is one of the park's unique highlights.  From there, I continued west along descending trails to a beautiful boardwalk on the outskirts of Mills Pond.  You're likely to find couples on romantic strolls or families out with their dog, but you're also likely to find swans, box turtles and a wide variety of ducks.  I should note that across from the pond on Harbor Road is the Stony Brook Grist Mill, which is also worth a look.  The Ward Melville Heritage Association owns and operates it as a working mill museum and a historical marker from the New York State Education Department indicates it was made by a man named Adam Smith in 1699.

After Avalon Park, I visited Avalon Preserve and its southern neighbor East Farm Preserve.  The yellow trail is the longest at 2.2 miles and loops around the outskirts of both preserves.  The 0.8-mile blue trail loops within Avalon Preserve, which is open to both hiking and biking, while the one-mile green trail loops within East Farm Preserve.  Lastly, the 1.1-mile orange trail loops around wildflower meadows in Avalon Preserve, where there's a barn that hosts yoga classes and a sky lab for stellar and solar observations.  Schedules are on Avalon's website.  Another noteworthy spot in the meadows is an art installation called The Sphere, which is described as a "postbox for those who have no earthly address."  Park visitors are encouraged to send messages beyond our realm by inserting them into this "poetic vessel."

Interestingly, Avalon's website includes a series of rules for photographers due to a spike in shoots at the park that are "increasingly infringing on its serenity and contemplative nature."  The website also lists the preserve's trees as ranging from oaks to dogwoods to hickories, with wildlife ranging from rabbits to red fox to "many bird species."  I even saw a cluster of deer in East Farm Preserve.  My music of choice was Caligula's Horse's In Contact album, which is an absolute beast.  It truly cements the band's status in progressive metal circles.

All in all, I'd say Avalon Park & Preserve is very deserving of a visit by all local nature lovers.  Like I said earlier, the park and preserve has something for everyone meaning it succeeds in getting people outside and enjoying nature.  And that, my friends, is the magic of Avalon.


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