Heckscher State Park 

Location: East Islip, NY
Size: 1,600 acres
Date of hike: May 31, 2015
Heckscher State Park is a spacious place along the Great South Bay with something for everyone: ball fields, beaches, picnic areas, playgrounds, and even a frisbee golf course.  It also has hiking trails and the southern trailhead of the 32-mile Long Island Greenbelt Trail.  When I hiked the trail last year Heckscher left a big impact on me, so I was eager to revisit.  Needless to say, I'm glad I did.

Prior to hiking, I did some research to familiarize myself with the park's history and habitatsApparently, Heckscher's history dates back to the 19th century estates of George C. Taylor and J. Neal Plum, with the Town of Islip's founder William Nicoll also erecting his estate on the large parcel, according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's website.  The property was later bought by New York State with a donation from philanthropist August Heckscher despite opposition from the area's wealthy residents.  "It was one of Robert Moses' most difficult fights to obtain land for public recreation on Long Island," the website said.  Moses was ultimately able to close the deal with assistance and support from Governor Alfred E. Smith and the park opened in 1929.  With regards to wildlife, white-tailed deer are populous throughout the park with Heckscher's entrance even boasting that it's "home of the white-tailed deer."  There are also more than 280 species of birds to be observed, the site said.  Lastly, dogs are allowed, but in the park's "undeveloped areas only."

The park's official entrance can be found at the eastern end of the Southern State Parkway.  Upon entering, you'll find an internal road that's a big loop with parking available at different "fields" along the loop.  Each field serves a unique purpose with some featuring beautiful beaches and others containing playgrounds and peaceful picnic areas.  "The park's shady picnic groves provide idyllic spots for family and group picnic outings," the website stated, adding that "large open fields are used for soccer, cricket, lacrosse and other field sports."  In addition, there are four miles of paved multi-use paths and a section of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail, which begins by the beach at Field 7.  Heckscher's stretch serves as the start (or end) point for the Greenbelt Trail, depending on which direction you're walking in.  For those wondering, the state's website has links to three maps: a trail map, a site map, and a frisbee golf course map.  The latter map indicates the golf course covers 8,553 feet.
After parking, I started to hike in the park's northwestern section near the frisbee golf course, making sure to keep my eyes peeled for any stray discsBefore long, I made my way south toward the Heckscher Canal, which was one of my favorite spots in the parkA tiny winding trail ran parallel to the waterway and an osprey released a deafening screech as I walked by a tall platform that held its nest.  From there, I marched south and east past the Heckscher Boat Launch until I reached West Beach, which offered an amazing view of the Great South Bay and a nice backdrop of Fire Island.  This was another favorite spot and I couldn't resist sitting in the sand for a short while.  It was like something straight out of a nature painting.  The state's website said the bay is a great spot for canoeing, kayaking and sail boarding, and I understand why.  In fact, I was surprised I didn't see anyone out there on this day. 
Next, I went east staying a stone's throw from the shore until I came upon the mutli-use trail, which featured a string of fitness stationsI then encountered Field 7, which is the trailhead for the Long Island Greenbelt Trail.  A "Greenbelt Trail" sign marks the spot at the start of a sandy path about 30 yards from the water.  On a side note, I totally lost the trail last year at Field 8, likely since the trail markers are on deteriorating pavement and obscured by weeds.  Anyway, after passing Overlook Beach, I explored the park's eastern and northern sections the latter of which contains an abandoned graffiti-filled structure.  One spray-painted phrase said "I love Matt."  Another said "Retards are fun."  The other graffiti was too faded to read.

Additional attractions included cottages being built in the park's northeastern section that offer three-season accommodations and house up to six people, the state's website said.  Each unit will be fully furnished and have a kitchenette, bathroom and screened-in porchThey looked like the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Long Island without actually leaving Long IslandHeckscher is expected to have 15 cottages ready by 2019.  The project is part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's NY Parks 2020 initiative, I later learned.     
Overall, there aren't as many hiking trails as I would've expected from the park's large size, but I loved the trails I experiencedNext time though, I'll plan to bring a beach towel and a good book.  There's just something about Heckscher's shores that leave me wanting more. 

(Updated: March 30, 2019)

Video: Heckscher State Park (360-degree view)  
Map: Heckscher State Park (Google Maps image)

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