Edgewood Oak Brush Plains Preserve
Location: Deer Park, NY
Size: 813 acres
Date of hike: April 12, 2015
Edgewood Oak Brush Plains Preserve is a woodland used for biking and hiking that was once the site of a state psychiatric facility. It is also known for having the largest remnant of pitch pine-scrub oak barrens on Long Island – and the second largest in New York. It was brought to my attention by a Facebook friend who stumbled across a list of local natures preserves on LongIsland.com. Once I saw the listing for Edgewood Preserve, I knew I had to stop by soon. And there was no better time than the first pretty weekend of spring.
Prior to the hike, I did some quick research to familiarize myself with the preserve, which is managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Firstly, it's situated within three different towns – Babylon, Huntington and Islip – and was home to Edgewood State Hospital starting in the 1930s, according to a sign by the park's entrance. The U.S. Army later leased buildings to treat battle-traumatized soldiers from World War II, and the facility closed in 1969. In 1983, the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) transferred 632 surplus acres to the DEC, which acquired 100 adjacent acres in the 1990s, followed by OMH transferring 81 additional acres to the DEC in 1999. "By the early 1990s, all buildings were demolished," the sign stated. "Some remnants of old facilities still exist, including an overgrown railroad spur, several filled-in tunnels and some sections of roadway." In addition, the park is one of 14 lands designated as a State Nature and Historic Preserve, meaning it is afforded "one of the highest levels of protection," the Friends of the Edgewood Preserve's website said. Interestingly, the Friends' website also said their group suspended its stewardship in 2011 in protest of the DEC's "egregious mismanagement of the property."
The preserve's entrance is on Commack Road between Burlington Avenue and Nicolls Road and has enough spaces for around 20 cars. Upon entering the preserve, the first thing you'll encounter are two trails – one going north, one going south – followed by an open field used to fly model planes. Beyond the field is Old Commack Road, a 1.6-mile paved road running the preserve's entire length from north to south. Apparently, this was once an actual street. After walking the whole road to assess the preserve's size, I disappeared into a nature trail. For hikers, the blue trail is a 2.7-mile loop with an "easy walk through a pine barrens forest," according to Friends of the Edgewood Preserve's website. There are also 12 miles of trails maintained by C.L.I.M.B., which stands for the Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists, through a volunteer stewardship agreement. The beginner biking trail is a 5.5-mile loop trail lined with white markers, while 6.8 miles of advanced loops use yellow, blue or red markers – with red representing the "most difficult" trail. A trail map is available on the DEC's website.
While I mostly stayed on the foot trail, I couldn't help but hop onto the biking trails at times. They were bumpy with lots of ups and downs. It was like riding a wilderness roller coaster. One advanced trail even took me atop old railroad tracks that were there so long that trees had grown through the beams. I'd never seen anything like that. While on the biking trails, it's important to keep your iPod's volume low to hear oncoming cyclists. And I'm glad I did. Twice I heard a biker attempt to get my attention from behind – one with a whistle, another calling out "Biker up!" As for my music, I chose to listen to Leprous' 2011 album Bilateral. I'd purchased the album years earlier at the recommendation of a progressive metal friend, but I never really sunk my teeth into it until now. The band's crazy instrumental passages sound like a combination of Dream Theater and Mr.
Bungle. I need to listen to them more.
The preserve's environment is comprised of pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, a rare occurrence consisting of dense shrub thickets found in just three places on Long Island and six places statewide, the DEC's website said. It also hosts stands of bigtooth aspen and grasslands that have emerged on once developed sections. Oddly, I didn't
spot deer or other animals.
However, I read on the DEC's website that the preserve is home to many common species – including red-tailed hawks, red fox and hognose snakes. It also has varieties of butterflies, dragonflies and moths – including the rare coastal barrens buckeye moth – and numerous types of mushrooms and fungi, according to Friends of the Edgewood Preserve's website.
Other interesting sightings included towering power lines and an abandoned handball court. The power lines, which cut through the park's northern section, led to a fenced-in electrical substation. Meanwhile, the handball court looked like a big art canvas. I stumbled upon it somewhere in the preserve's eastern area, and I couldn't help but wonder how many hikers and bikers don't
even know it's there. I later read there are overgrown tennis courts next to the handball court, but I didn't even notice them during my explorations. Maybe next time!
All in all, I'd say Edgewood Oak Brush Plains Preserve is worth a visit if you're looking for a long winding hike, or if you want to dust off the old mountain bike. Unfortunately, there are no bodies of water in the preserve, but the park's artifacts and the land's incredible beauty will more than make up for that. And, most importantly, the trails are seemingly endless.
(Updated: Jan. 26, 2019)