Southaven County Park

Location: Yaphank, NY 

Size: 1,356 acres 

Date of hike: July 17, 2014

I've heard about Southaven County Park since I was little due to a UFO that was rumored to have crashed there in 1992.  The History Channel had an hour-long show about it a few years ago that can be found today on YouTube.  It had everything from grainy video footage showing a possible alien corpse to an analysis of some of the park's treetops, which might have been sheared off in the crash.  Some local residents even claimed to have witnessed the crash and military activity in the aftermath, but no official reports were ever released.

But I wasn't there to investigate a 20-year-old UFO conundrum.  I came to hike.  I'd visited Southaven nearly three years earlier with my friend Elizabeth, but that was strictly a quick visit to walk by the water.  This time, I intended to venture deep into the bowels of the park.  My first stop was to grab a trail pamphlet at the park's Information Center.  To my surprise, there were two versions available.  One depicted a short loop hike through the wilderness, while the other showed the park's full length including a string of power lines, train tracks, even the Long Island Expressway.  I used the latter map.  The more exploring, the better.  Plus, I'd heard that the park has a lot to offer and I was willing and ready to soak it all in.

Before exploring, I took a few moments to read up about the park's history and geography.  Apparently, Southaven became one of Suffolk County's first parks to open for the public in the 1960s, according to the county website.  The park's land reaches as far north as East Main Street and Yaphank Avenue in Yaphank, which contains the historic Homan-Gerard House and Mills as well as the girlhood home of the editor and writer Mary Louise Booth.  Portions of the Long Island Expressway and the Long Island Rail Road also run through Southaven, though the park is not accessible from the railroad or LIE, the website said.

After parking, I walked right toward the water located just south of the park's main buildings.  My previous research told me it was the Carmans River, which is around 10 miles in length.  It was a stunning spot with old benches, a short wood dock, and tons of ducks and geese.  Nearby, a hysterical young girl with her parents feared the geese and refused to walk near the water.  I chuckled and continued north along the river, passing dozens of picnic tables.  There must be enough to accommodate at least 1,000 people on a busy day, I estimated.  Boating, camping and freshwater fishing are also available, with sites for tents and trailers.

Once I distanced myself from the picnic areas, I began to experience the heart of the park.  The trails alternated between horseback and hiking paths, but they were all poorly marked.  Here and there, I'd spot white dots on trees, but they were so faded I wondered if they were simply mossy patches as opposed to paint.  I was forced to use the sun's position to help tell me if I was heading north or south.  An adjacent gun range also helped with its jolting "pops."  Heading north, the pops were on my left.  Heading south, they were on my right.

A half-hour into the hike I came across one of my favorite spots in the park: a dam over the Carmans River.  I walked onto the cement wall and bent down to touch the cool clear water.  Shortly thereafter, I reached the power lines, which towered high above the trees like giants.  The pole's low parts were peppered with graffiti – including one spot that said "Love Sucks.Yes, it does, I mumbled.  I couldn't help but wonder who left it and how their heart is today. 

Lastly, I came across the railroad tracks, which were blocked by a fence.  Luckily, I found a small opening and walked atop the elevated tracks.  It didn't take long before I found another cool spot: a graffiti-filled tunnel where the river flows under the tracks.  It was so Long Island.  Nature versus man.  I admired the sight for a bit, then prepared for the trek back to my car.

When I returned to the parking lot, I noticed a crisp "missing person" sign for Sarah Goode, the local teen who vanished a month before and was recently found dead in nearby woods.  Realizing how close I was to the spot where she had died filled me with an inner sadness.

As I departed, I hoped her young soul could find some peace within the picturesque park – like the peace I experienced there.  If anything can give a peaceful feeling, Southaven can. 

Video: Southaven County Park (360-degree view)   

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