Belmont Lake State Park

Location: West Babylon, NY 

Size: 463 acres 

Date of hike: July 7, 2018

Belmont Lake State Park is so much more than just a cool hiking spot.  It has everything from colorful pedal boats to old warship cannons, and it attracts everyone from grizzled fishermen to families out for a little fun in the sun.  It's pretty much like a one-stop shop for local lovers of the outdoors.  But, of course, I was there to hike.  And so hike is what I did.

First and foremost, the park is home to Belmont Lake and the Carlls River, the latter of which stretches 4.2 miles south to the Great South Bay, according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's website.  Oddly, the website sizes the lake at both 42 acres and 26 acres, so take your pick.  The land itself was used to breed horses up until 1885 and was owned by August Belmont, a politician who founded the Belmont Stakes, according to a park pamphlet.  Upon his son's death in 1924, the property was passed along to his son's widow Eleanor, an actress and playwright who sold most of it for subdivision into lots.  A remaining 158-acre parcel – including the lake, a mansion, and farm buildings – was sold to New York State, with the state purchasing additional land from Mrs. Belmont in 1927, the pamphlet said.  In 1935, Robert Moses chose the park to be a regional headquarters for Long Island's state parks.  As for trails, the state's website said there are 7.6 miles of them for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing.  A map is also available on the state's website.

The park's entrance is located on the north side of the Southern State Parkway – at Exit 38, to be exact.  The vehicle entrance fee is $8 unless you have an Empire Pass.  After parking, I surveyed my surroundings.  The park's northern section consists of ballfields, picnic areas, and bocce and horseshoe courts – all of which were packed on this beautiful summer's day.  But I couldn't help checking out the lake upon spotting it so I walked west toward the water, which was filled with blue, green and purple pedal boats.  Apparently, visitors can rent both pedal boats and rowboats at the park during the summer months, the state's website said.  "We also allow kayaks and canoes to be launched from the boat dock whenever it is open (they can't be inflatable, must be hard-bottomed, no motors, no surfboards or wakeboards, and no paddle boards)," the site said.  If you don't own a kayak, they are available for two hours for a $20 fee.  Meanwhile, pedal boats and rowboats are $15 for an hour-and-a-half.

After admiring the lake, I slowly strolled its adjacent paths.  The park's northwestern section has a few fitness-themed trails with workout stations – including parallel bars, a beam jump and a "horizontal ladder," aka monkey bars.  The park's southwestern section features two cannons that were captured from a British warship during the War of 1812 and resurrected from a junkyard, according to a sign.  Another sign informed visitors of a project to combat erosion along the shore of Belmont Lake.  "Instead of installing timber bulkheading as was done on the lake's east side, a more economical, natural and less destructive conservation approach is underway," the sign said.  "Biodegradable rolls of coconut fiber are installed to protect the low water line.  They also trap sediment and act as a wave barrier."  In addition, sparse seeding will help encourage natural vegetation to become established, the sign said.

Upon completing the loop, I backtracked to an underpass on the lake's south side that took me beneath the Southern State Parkway.  A handful of trails appeared on the opposite side, but only the middle trail seemed to stay in the park.  It ran parallel to the Carlls River, south past the Babylon Riding Center, and under Sunrise Highway until it reached what is known as Southards Pond Park, according to my geocaching app.  I decided to turn around there, with intentions to plan a future hike around Southards.  To help set the mood for the rest of my hike, I listened to a mix of progressive metal highlighted by some gems from the band Redemption.  I also wondered why society chooses to pick up after dogs, but not horses.

With regard to wildlife, the park has wetland and freshwater habitats that attract many birds.  American wigeons, canvasbacks and other species of waterfowl can be found in the winter, while the summer finds turtles coming ashore to lay eggs and great blue heron hunting for fish, the pamphlet said.  Spring brings butterflies that emerge from the park's tree hallows, while warblers are seen during spring and fall migrations.  Trout is also stocked there in the fall and spring, with fish such as largemouth bass and yellow perch found there all year long. 

Overall, I'd say Belmont Lake State Park is a fantastic place to visit on a summer afternoon.  While I prefer parks that are more secluded, there's no denying the beauty of Belmont Lake.  In fact, I'm already planning to return and ride a pedal boat.  Or maybe a rowboat.  Or both!

Video: Belmont Lake State Park (360-degree view)

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