Location: Ridge, NY
Size: 300 acres
Date of hike: Jan. 14, 2017
Pine Trail Nature Preserve is one of the most straightforward names for a preserve that I've seen on Long Island. Yes, you guessed it – it's a preserve with a trail through a forest of pines. But that's not a bad thing, since it was the name's simplicity that attracted me to the spot. As a guy who loves hiking through pines, I was eager to visit it as soon as I saw the sign.
For starters, I passed the Pine Trail Nature Preserve a few weeks earlier after hiking nearby Robert Cushman Murphy County Park in Calverton and Manorville. Pine Trail's entrance is located along the southern side of Middle Country Road (NY Route 25) between Pine Bark and Pleasant View roads, with a parking area that consists of a dirt patch big enough to fit maybe a dozen cars. But for some reason, the preserve isn't listed on the Suffolk County Parks Department's website. Those of you who have read some of my other blog entries know that's a pet peeve of mine. After all, how are hikers like myself supposed to know about county parks and preserves if the county doesn't even mention them on their site? We're not psychic. But that's a story for another day. Twas time to focus on the pines.
Before embarking, I did some pre-hike research on the small preserve to familiarize myself with its history and habitats. Unfortunately, there wasn't much information available online – not even an approximate acreage, so the size listed above is merely a personal estimation. It seems the preserve was established in the late 1980s to connect the Rocky Point State Pine Barrens Preserve with Robert Cushman Murphy County Park, with help from Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). It's best known for hosting a part of the Pine Barrens Trail, which is a 47-mile trail from Rocky Point to Hampton Bays, as well as the Paumanok Path that goes all the way to Montauk. You'll see the trail markers as soon as you start to hike.
To my delight, my jeep was the only vehicle there when I'd arrived. That meant the preserve was all mine, or so I thought. A few dog walkers apparently accessed the preserve through some roadside openings along its eastern edge. The western edge, meanwhile, is adjacent to Brookhaven National Laboratory – specifically the facility's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, according to my geocaching app. I was hopeful that the lab's proximity would lead to some unique debris or structures in the woods, but that wasn't the case. The strangest thing was a dilapidated fort made of tires and planks with the spray-painted phrase, "Fuck the Cops."
I followed the trail markers southeast over a handful of dirt, and paved, roads that stretched east to west across the preserve. The roads were filled with fallen branches, making them pretty much impassable for vehicles. I took each one west until I reached the lab's fences, where yellow signs warned of steep fines for those who trespass. The trails cut through a string of power lines and later led to a junction of the Pine Barrens and Brookhaven trails. Having already spotted that sign while hiking Robert Cushman Murphy, I retreated there.
My music of choice was Swedish progressive metal band Pain of Salvation's latest release, titled In The Passing Light of Day. Vocalist Daniel Gildenlöw based it on a near-fatal illness he battled in 2014, using the hospital bed as a narrative hub. The album's lyrics incorporate the conflicting feelings that can consume a person's mind when presented with the prospect of death. I highly recommend the title track. It's one of the most moving songs he's written.
All in all, I wouldn't advise hikers to go out of their way to visit the Pine Trail Nature Preserve. It's one of those spots that's useful if you live close by and crave a quick escape into nature. If you intend to one day hike the Pine Barrens Trail, you'll be traversing the preserve anyway. That being said, it's always hard to turn down a nice pine trail. I'm the first to attest to that!