Date of hike: Aug. 4, 2017
I stumbled upon the Otis G. Pike Preserve last year while hiking Robert Cushman Murphy County Park, which is considered Suffolk County's first natural park. I was driving around the park's outskirts when I saw the preserve's sign just south of River Road on Connecticut Avenue, which itself seems to be the border between the preserve and park. Although the sign is understated and easy to miss, I luckily didn't miss it. And I ultimately added the preserve to my list of future hikes.
Before exploring, I did some pre-hike research to help familiarize myself with the preserve. Unfortunately, there was little historical information online, but I got a feel for the preserve's geography on Google Maps. The preserve is bordered on the west by Connecticut Avenue, on the north by River Road, and on the south by South River and Mill roads. The result is a triangular shape. The Peconic River also flows through the area and several small ponds sit along the course of the river. I saw a few news articles claiming the preserve is 3,000 acres, but it looks like a fraction of that on the map. Next, I googled "Otis G. Pike" to learn about the man for whom the land was named. Apparently, he was an Democratic congressman who represented the First District from 1961-1979 and before that was a Riverhead Town Councilman. He was also a columnist for Newhouse Newspapers, a Marine pilot during World War II, and a proponent of pro-environmental legislation including the creation of the Fire Island National Seashore. A pretty well-rounded and accomplished man, if you ask me.
The preserve's entrance is located alongside railroad tracks with a gravelly patch big enough to fit a couple cars acting as a parking lot. To access the preserve, you actually cross over the tracks to reach a canoe launch and two paths – one heading left, and one heading right. There was no trail map posted, but my educated guess was that it's basically one big loop and I'd end up back where I began regardless of which direction I chose, and I was correct. But there were twists and turns along the way, which we'll get to soon. First, I hiked right. The trail started off in a southern direction parallel with the tracks and Connecticut Avenue, and subsequently turned off in an eastern direction parallel with the tracks and South River Road. I didn't see or hear a single train during my hike, but I did walk onto the tracks once or twice to experience the view. I also paused my iPod to hear any approaching locomotive.
Eventually, the trail crosses the tracks again and leads to power lines. This is where things got tricky, as there were options to continue straight and pass the power lines or turn left or right and walk with the power lines. Since I was set on exploring every inch of the preserve, the only answer was to hike each trail one by one and then backtrack when it faded out and move on to the next one. For those short on time, the highlights were "fishing access sites" maintained by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. One was on Mill Road east of the intersection with South River Road, while the other was on River Road east of Connecticut Avenue. Both sites offered breathtaking views of the lily pad-filled river.
One thing that confused me were signs posted at the entrance of both fishing access sites. "This fishing access site is designed for fishing and boat launching only; use of this site for any other purpose is prohibited," the signs said. Does that mean they're off-limits to hikers? I can't imagine that. While I was there, both sites also attracted passersby who pulled over for a dose of nature. Are these fishing access sites off-limits to them as well? Regardless, both sites were tiny and my visit was over in under 10 minutes. Then I returned to the loop.
All in all, I wouldn't travel far to see Otis G. Pike Preserve, but I'd consider visiting it if you're at Robert Cushman Murphy County Park. In particular, make sure to check out the fishing access sites. They are worth the stop. Take it from me: a Mike who likes to hike at Pike.
Video: Otis. G. Pike Preserve (360-degree view)