Mashomack Preserve

Location: Shelter Island, NY

Size: 2,039 acres

Date of hike: July 27, 2017

I liked Mashomack Preserve so much I ended up hiking it twice this summer.  Yes, it's that beautiful.  My first visit was with my friend Tracy who is a native of Sag Harbor, which is just a five-minute ferry ride away from the preserve.  My second visit was a solo hike that took about 4-5 hours.  Needless to say, the preserve was calling to me after my initial visit.  And if something calls to me, I'll listen.
For starters, Mashomack is located on Shelter Island right between Long Island's North and South Forks.  The Nature Conservancy, which acquired the land in 1980, estimates that the preserve constitutes nearly one-third of the island.  Apparently, the preserve was purchased to prevent development and protect one of the east coast's densest populations of breeding ospreys, according to the preserve's pamphlet.  Geographically, the preserve is bordered by more than 10 miles of sandy coastline and features interlacing tidal creeks, woodlands and fields that make it a "superb wildlife habitat," the pamphlet said.  But before planning a visit, it's important to note the preserve has hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. from March through September, and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. from October through February.  It is also closed on Tuesdays, except in July and August when it is open seven days a week, and it's only open during weekends in January.  In addition, there's a suggested donation of $3 per adult and $2 per child.  Lastly, for those wondering, Mashomack is an Indian term that means "where they go by water."

Upon arriving, I was greeted during both visits by a preserve volunteer and asked to sign my name in a visitor's log.  Interestingly, the people who signed before me came from locations ranging from Canada to the UK.  The visitor center is a museum of sorts filled with displays, literature, and a small gift shop.  There's even a cool 3D map of Shelter Island.  But since I was craving nature I beelined for the trails, which start next to the center.  There are several options for hikers: the red trail (1.5 miles), the yellow trail (three miles), the green trail ( six miles), and the blue trail (10 miles).  All four are loop trails that begin and end at the visitor center.  During my first visit, I completed the green.  And during my second visit, I pursued the blue.  I must say, they are all well marked with a trail map posted at every intersection.  Most of the unmarked trails were off limits, however.  "Exploration of unmarked areas may result in increased exposure to ticks and disturbance of sensitive habitats," one sign said.

The trails were peppered with informational kiosks that described the wildlife and plant life, and the opening mile even featured poetry on laminated signs with animal illustrations and rhyming lines.  "A woodpecker searches eager to munch, tapping for bugs it will eat for its lunch," one sign said.  The poetry stopped right around the first lookout spot, which had a small gazebo that offered an amazing view of Smith Cove.  Several majestic swans floated along as I sunk my teeth into a sandwich.  The next impressive spot was a big field where the yellow, green and blue trails intersect.  During both visits, there were no other hikers in sight upon entering the big field, giving me a peaceful (yet apocalyptic) feel.  I should note, it's easy to take a wrong turn here, so study the map carefully.  Also, just south of the big field the green trail offers a killer look at the cove and Shelter Island Sound.  Don't miss it.

Next, I took the blue trail, which stretches deep into the preserve and offers views of Coecles Harbor and Gardiners Bay.  I instinctively whistled Billy Joel's song, "The Downeaster Alexa," which mentions the bay.  "We took on diesel back in Montauk yesterday, "Joel's lyrics read,  "and left this morning from the bell in Gardiners Bay."  I also saw signs indicating the woods are undergoing restoration.  "This is the site of a prescribed fire that was coordinated by the Nature Conservancy in April of 1995," one notice said.  "The reason for burning the area was to test the effectiveness of fire in removing dense strands of catbrier to allow for regeneration of forest tree and shrub species."  Near the end of the blue loop, there is a cool observation shelter with fun graffiti scribbled inside.  A similar shelter is also located on the green loop.

I'd be remiss if I didn't note the abundance of wildlife.  The chipmunks were incredibly active, with a few running within inches of my feet.  I also passed a turtle sitting in the middle of one trail, and a snake basking in the sun in the middle of another trail.  I picked up the little turtle, but skirted the snake.  The highlight though was my first-ever fox sighting.  It happened when I stumbled upon a father and son recording something, which turned out to be a fox.  I stood still so not to disturb it, and to my surprise he trotted a circle around me before scurrying off.  Pretty cool, if you ask me.  The preserve also has tons of osprey platforms and is known to occasionally harbor nesting populations of the endangered piping plover and the least tern.

In addition to whistling some Billy Joel, my music of choice was a mix of progressive metal highlighted by tunes from OSI's Fire Make Thunder album.  I hadn't listened to it in a while, so it particularly hit the spot when I heard the songs "Wind Won't Howl" and "For Nothing."  The unique monotone vocals and lyrics of Kevin Moore always seem to touch me deeply.  "Hope is a candle that feeds off of the air till it leaves almost nothing," he sang.  I took a deep breath and allowed his words to flow through me.  It was exactly what I'd needed.

Without question, Mashomack Preserve is required hiking for nature lovers on Long Island.  While the lengthy blue trail might be too much for some hikers, I urge everyone to at least explore the green trail in order to get a true feel for the preserve.  It's worth it.  Believe me.  And be sure to add "The Downeaster Alexa" to your iPod.  It'll provide a little extra magic.

Video: Mashomack Preserve (360-degree view)

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