Location: Massapequa, NY
Size: 423 acres
Date of hike: Aug. 7, 2015
I decided to hike the Peter J. Schmitt Massapequa Preserve after reading about it in Long Island Pulse magazine at the office of Zwanger-Persiri Radiology in Deer Park. I accompanied a friend for an X-ray there and stumbled across the blurb while flipping through the magazine to kill time. A photo of the preserve caught my eye, and I felt like I was meant to visit it before the summer's end. Most of my recent hikes were in Suffolk County anyway, so I was eager to bring a Nassau County spot into the mix. The timing couldn't be better.
I entered the preserve by following my GPS's navigation onto Walker Street in Massapequa and driving through an entrance to Mansfield Memorial Park. Next, I continued across a big dirt and pebble-covered area that apparently served as the parking lot – with a handful of ball fields off to the left and biking and hiking trails straight ahead beyond a sign reading "Peter J. Schmitt Massapequa Preserve." The preserve definitely seemed to be a popular biking spot, as a dozen bikers complete with helmets and spandex sped by within minutes of my arrival. I was there to hike though, so I passed those bustling bikers for the first hiking trail in sight. Seconds later, I was all alone in a sea of trees, ready to explore the county's single largest acquisition of New York City watershed property, according to Nassau County's website.
I used my geocaching app to find a satellite image and get a sense of the preserve's layout. It is divided into three sections bounded by major roadways: 1) Linden Street south to Clark Street, which is the preserve's biggest piece; 2) Clark Street south to Sunrise Highway; and 3) Sunrise Highway to Merrick Road. An overwhelming majority of the caches were stashed in the preserve's northern region, telling me that many hikers don't make it all the way south. I decided to start by hiking north toward Linden Street and getting that chunk out of the way before heading south to the heart of the preserve. There also appeared to be a sliver of land north of Linden across the Southern State Parkway, but I decided to save it for another day.
The first thing I noticed upon starting my hike was the large white dots painted on the trees. I later determined they were markers for the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, which begins at Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue and continues through the length of the preserve, ending in Cold Spring Harbor. The trail for the most part seemed to parallel Massapequa Creek, which on the satellite view seemed to start in Massapequa Lake in the preserve's southern chunk. That area has the most ecologically valuable lands, according to Nassau County's website. The creek also fed four smaller lakes or ponds in the preserve, all of which were stunning.
In addition, the preserve has freshwater swamps, marshes, and bogs areas that are habitats to a wide range of rare and endangered local plants – such as orchids, carnivorous sundews and bladderworts, according to Nassau County. Freshwater fishing is available in several of the preserve's lakes and streams, but a license required. I probably passed around 10 kids fishing on this day. I also glimpsed a number of small facility buildings covered in colorful graffiti, several little bridges used for fishing, and a few burnt-out fire pits along the trails.
I walked all the way south past Massapequa Lake to the start of the 16-mile Greenbelt Trail. I then hiked entirely around the lake hoping to walk up the preserve's east side, but the lake closely bordered the backyard of neighboring homes forcing me to walk north on Lakeshore Boulevard and then re-enter the preserve when I hit Sunrise. By then I was a sweaty mess, so I chose to follow the biking trails the rest of the way for a leisurely walk back to the car.
My music on this fine day was Threshold's 2004 album, Subsurface. If you follow my blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been increasingly listening to that band in recent months – specifically the string of albums featuring the band's late vocalist Andrew “Mac” McDermott. Every new song I hear with his vocals is like a special gift knowing he’s no longer with us.
While I'm not a fan of trails that require me to cross busy highways like the game "Frogger," it was worth it in the case of Massapequa Preserve. In fact, I even feel tempted to add the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail to my growing list of places to hike. In fact, I just added it!
Video: Peter J. Schmitt Massapequa Preserve (360-degree view)