Gardiner County Park

Location: Bay Shore, NY 

Size: 231 acres

Date of hike: April 19, 2014

Gardiner County Park was a popular spot on this spring day.  I was surprised to find parked cars spilling over onto the shoulder of Montauk Highway.  Having a preference for less-crowded trails, I was tempted to come back another day.  But since I was already there, I decided to head inside and see what the park had to offer.  Luckily, someone was leaving just as I entered the lot, which accommodated several dozen cars.  And so, I parked and made my way to nature.

The only online info I found about the park is that it was first owned by the Gardiner family, which were the county's first non-native land owners, and later part of the historic Sagtikos Manor Estate, according to the Suffolk County Parks Department's website.  My first stop was the park’s picturesque pond, which was about a stone’s throw south of the parking lot.  A handful of parkgoers sat and relaxed on surrounding benches, and I couldn’t blame them.  The location was straight out of a painting.  But hoping for a little more seclusion, I headed toward the main trail, which went directly to the Great South Bay.  One or two other routes branched off along the way, but I kept to the main one in an effort to check out the view as soon as possible.  Since Gardiner Park is a dog-friendly facility, the paths were peppered with energetic dogs, but I tried not to let their frequent interruptions affect my enjoyment.

When I reached the shore a short while later, I realized it was well worth the walk.  The first thing I spotted was the Fire Island Lighthouse, straight ahead across the bay.  It was about an inch high, but unmistakable with its black and white stripes.  Just to the right of that was the Fire Island Inlet Bridge, which got bigger with every step I took.  I marched all the way to the edge of the park, where a wood bulkhead separated it from the nearby waterfront homes.  After admiring their architecture for a few moments, I walked away to avoid seeming creepy.  Then I went east along the shore, hopping small streams that remained from a recent tide.

My music of choice for this hike was Steven Wilson, the lead singer of the prog rock band Porcupine Tree.  I had just added his two most recent solo albums to my iPod – along with Storm Corrosion, his project with Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth.  The atmospheric instrumental passages totally helped me get lost in the environment and forget about everything except the present moment.  It's something I struggle to pull off at times, but when I do I savor it.

After retreating to the main trail, I branched off onto the park’s nature trails that were marked with nature names such as Duck Trail and Fox Trail.  I just walked wherever my heart called, randomly following trails until I hit the parking lot.  Along the way, I noticed a few bat boxes stationed about 8-10 feet up in the trees, likely to help quell the local mosquito population.

My assessment of the park is that it has beautiful spots, but it might attract too much traffic for most hikers.  If it was this busy in early spring, I wonder what it would be like in summer.  Still, the view is stunning and the hiking is easy, so I'd recommend it for nature newcomers.

Video: Gardiner County Park (360-degree view)

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