Location: Smithtown, NY
Size: 627 acres
Date of hike: March 8, 2014
Blydenburgh County Park is where you'll find Long Island's second largest body of water: Blydenburgh Lake, also known as Stump Pond, also known as New Mill or Weld's Pond. Yes, those are all the names I stumbled across while researching the park online. You can call it whatever you like though, as long as you call it beautiful. Because it is. Incredibly beautiful.
Prior to hiking, I pulled up some information on the area's history and habitats to familiarize myself with Blydenburgh County Park. It seems the land that currently comprises the park was inherited by sisters Elizabeth and Susannah Smith of Smithtown during the late 1700s, with Susannah's husband Isaac Blydenburgh buying out Elizabeth's share, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's website. Susannah and Isaac then built a milling complex on the land with help from Isaac's cousins, Joshua and Caleb Smith. As part of the complex, 100 acres of forest were cut down and a dam was created to flood the section to become Blydenburgh Lake, aka Stump Pond, aka New Mill or Weld's Pond. You can still see some stumps when you wade in the water, the website said. From there, the land was bought by David and Mary Weld in 1938, and then by Suffolk County in 1965. Lastly, the county named the property Blydenburgh County Park in 1969. Congrats, Isaac!
With regard to geography, the park is comprised of "richly forested hills and valleys" at the headwaters of the Nissequogue River, according to the Suffolk County Parks Department's website. The property is also home to the Blydenburgh Farm and New Mill Historic District, which depicts a farm-to-mill-to-market cycle of the pre-industrial economy and includes the only indigenous farm and mill found in close proximity to each other and in public hands on Long Island. As for the lake, it has a depth of eight feet and hosts a variety of fish species, but is best known for large-mouth bass. In fact, the lake has a "history of producing trophy large-mouth bass," according to a profile by the Department of Environmental Conservation, which also calls the body of water "one of the least developed and most picturesque ponds on Long Island." Other fish species include bluegills, pumpkinseeds and brown bullheads.
This visit was my second opportunity to properly conquer the park. I first hiked Blydenburgh with a friend two years earlier, but we got lost as darkness descended and escaped through a chain-link fence that bordered an adjacent neighborhood. We spent the next hour walking back to the park entrance on Veterans Memorial Highway, where a generous ranger took us the rest of the way to our car. Talk about embarrassing! During this visit, I parked in a large gravelly lot that led to an adorable dock with about 20 metal rowboats stacked and chained. Those rowboats, I later learned, are available to rent between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Realizing this might very well be the winter's last cold spell, I took a moment to admire the water's half-frozen half-liquid surface before hitting the trails. It was an extraordinary sight.
The main blue trail is a 6.6-mile path that generally stays within a stone's throw of the shore. Having downloaded a park map before exploring, I knew that the trail looped around the lake, so I would likely return to where I'd began if I just kept following the dots. After a short while, the trail became a boardwalk, and then a trail again. The park's land was also peppered with bridges and planks to help hikers cross occasional creeks. When I made it halfway around, I tiptoed onto the lake's ice and sat Indian style to eat a sandwich I'd bought earlier that day. It was a very cool experience – literally and figuratively. My butt cheeks can testify to that!
Although the trail has an elevation gain of 200 feet or so, I still passed a handful of joggers and dog walkers. I stepped aside and smiled, letting them pass. One man slipped on the melting snow, then glanced at me with embarrassment to see my reaction. I stayed stoic. After all, I had to escape through a fence two years ago, so I had no right to judge anyone. Also, I didn't see any horses, but I'd read online the park is open to riders. And campers.
My music of choice on this day was Dream Theater's self-titled album, which was released last year and features the Grammy-nominated single, "The Enemy Inside." I found myself playing air guitar to John Petrucci's sick riffs as I trekked through the snow-covered paths. Petrucci, who actually lives in nearby St. James, really knows how to write a song, man.
All in all, I enjoyed Blydenburgh. But if I return, it would definitely be in the warmer weather. Sure, I enjoyed eating on the ice. But the kid in me secretly longs to row, row, row a boat...