Lakeland County Park

Location: Islandia, NY

Size: 70 acres

Date of hike: Feb. 8, 2014

Lakeland County Park is a delightful wetland with a boardwalk trail over the headwaters of the Connetquot River.  It's also like a second home to me.  Growing up just blocks from a secret entrance, I'd escape to its trails as often as possible.  Looking back, it's safe to say this place served as my introduction to the outdoors.  Even today, I'll stop in for a visit when nostalgia strikes.

Prior to hiking, I did some research to familiarize myself with the park's history and habitats, but there weren't many details available aside from a brief description on the Suffolk County Parks Department's website.  "This 70-acre fully accessible park facility is designed for the disabled and their families," the website said.  "It includes a nature trail boardwalk over the headwaters of the six-mile Connetquot River, affording unique views of wetlands, vegetation, waterfowl and wildlife."  The park's entrance is along the south side of Johnson Avenue just east of Old Nichols Road, with a parking lot big enough to fit dozens of cars.  The first thing you'll see upon parking is an adorable playground, a handful of basketball nets, and a string of picnic tables under shady trees.  For hikers though, the fun starts just east of the parking lot where the winding wooden boardwalk disappears into the trees.  It's impossible to resist.  If you're lucky, you might even see a few deer or some turtles right alongside that very path.

The boardwalk trail, which is open to leashed pets, zigzags over the river's headwaters and ends at a beautiful spot called Honeysuckle Pond.  Several paths branch off the boardwalk and head into the adjacent forest, but visitors can go directly to the pond by following signs.  The entire walk takes about 15 minutes.  Through the years, I've seen Honeysuckle Pond's size range from a little swimming pool to a football field-sized body of water, but it's always pretty regardless of its proportions.  I also love to admire the names and dates carved into the wood and wonder where those couples are today.  To me, it's part of the park's charm.  As for the white blazes, the boardwalk boasts a section of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail, which is a 32-mile path that runs north to south (or south to north) across Suffolk County.

Incidentally, one of my favorite local hikes starts in Lakeland County Park, and it's one that I've conceived over many years of exploration.  It begins on the boardwalk and continues to Honeysuckle Pond.  Then I take the Greenbelt Trail through a graffiti-filled underpass for the Long Island Rail Road, which is where Lakeland merges with Connetquot River State Park.  From there, I hike the Greenbelt Trail south and west to an overgrown internal street called Perimeter Road, according to Google Maps.  Next, I'll go north on that road and ultimately finish beneath a bridge where the railroad tracks pass under Veterans Memorial Highway. 

Since I've hiked the park countless times, I enjoy exploring it in different weather conditions, which always makes it feel fresh and new.  For example, it was coated with a few inches of snow on this day and the trees were lined with white.  It was like my own winter wonderland.  As for music, I went with Tesseract's Altered State, which was one of the better progressive metal releases of 2013.  The album's aggression compelled me to stomp through the snow.

All in all, I'd definitely recommend that all local hikers eventually visit Lakeland County Park.  Even after all these years, the park's boardwalk still calls to me, and I'm sure it always will.  It's like a time machine bringing me back to my childhood.  Your inner child will like it too.

 (Updated: Sept. 2, 2019)

Video: Lakeland County Park (360-degree view)   
Map: Lakeland County Park (Google Maps image)

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