It had been a while since I'd hiked a preserve under the jurisdiction of the Nature Conservancy, so I intentionally selected Uplands Farm Sanctuary for that reason. I always enjoy their parks – especially Butler-Huntington Woods, Calverton Ponds Preserve and David Weld Sanctuary. Uplands Farm is also located in the hamlet of Cold Spring Harbor, which is home to the superb Cold Spring Harbor State Park. So the probability was high I'd like hiking the sanctuary. But I didn't just like it. I loved it.
The first thing visitors should know is the property operated as a dairy farm from 1920-1962, according to the Nature Conservancy's website. "The gravelly acidic soils of Uplands Farm are difficult to fertilize, so raising livestock was preferable to cultivation," the website stated. "In colonial times the land was most likely used for sheep ranching for wool." Jane Nichols, the farm's longtime resident and owner, donated three parcels to the conservancy during the late 1970s and additional parcels were acquired that brought its total size to 97 acres upon her death in 1981. Today, the old brick farm buildings act as an office for the conservancy's Long Island Chapter. As for hiking, there are 2.5 miles of marked paths that "meander from bird and butterfly meadows, through deciduous forests, and into a white-pine shaded ravine," the website said. It also links to the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, a 20-mile trail that runs north to south across Long Island. A sanctuary trail map was on the conservancy's website, with another one in a pamphlet posted online by the Town of Huntington. That pamphlet has the sanctuary's size as 86 acres though – not 97 acres, as claimed by the conservancy and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Lastly, no dogs are allowed.
The sanctuary's entrance is on Lawrence Hill Road between Harbor Road and Rogers Drive. To reach the trailhead, I drove down the preserve's access road past what appeared to be a greenhouse and parked by an adorable silo. The starting point featured a few informational displays about the sanctuary and Nature Conservancy. "The fields and hedgerows provide habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals – including wildflowers, 40 butterfly species, and birds such as bobolinks, meadowlarks and eastern bluebirds," according to one blurb. Later, I read on the conservancy's website that bluebirds, which are New York's state bird, will typically return in the late winter or early spring and build nests in the sanctuary's bird boxes or tree cavities. Groundhogs have also become increasingly common, with visitors advised to look for them along the meadow's edges. Another fun fact is the meadow was historically hayed once per year and used to feed cattle, with the conservancy's staff now mowing the meadow's vegetation every winter "to retain this special habitat," the site said.
The conservancy's trail map shows two trails: Daniel P. Davison Trail and West Loop Trail, both of which are 1.2 miles. Daniel P. Davison starts in the preserve's wildflower meadows, where a nest box program is underway to provide shelter and reproduction opportunities for cavity nesting birds, according to the conservancy's website. "Look for the tree swallows, flashes of metallic blue above the meadow grasses and wildflowers, as they swiftly snatch flying insects out of the sky," the website said. On the meadow's eastern side, green and yellow trail markers took me through a hilly woodland with red maple, black cherry and red cedar trees. After completing Daniel P. Davison, I went to the West Loop, which begins at the former trail's southernmost point. West Loop's highlights included a cool boarded and abandoned house, an old wrecking ball, and a taste of the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail.
Other interesting tidbits are that 22 warbler species have been documented in the preserve, with birds such as scarlet tanagers and orchard orioles breeding in the surrounding forests. "It is one of the few locations that a birder can hear a 'dawn chorus' when so many different birds are singing," according to a sanctuary description on Discover Long Island's website. Also, monarch butterflies return to the region in late summer, with both the caterpillars and adult butterflies relying on milkweed species that bloom in the open field, the conservancy's website said. In other news, the preserve is the future site of a project that will showcase a "practical and natural means to breakdown excess nitrogen from wastewater," a sign said.
My music on this day was The Neal Morse Band's 2016 release, The Similitude of a Dream, which is a two-disc progressive rock concept album. I was a little skeptical when drummer Mike Portnoy called it "THE" album of his career, but he might be right. I know I mention a lot of music on this blog, but if you ever choose to listen to a record this is the one to pick. Even if the band's future music doesn't match the epic nature of The Similitude of a Dream, I'm incredibly grateful just to own this truly inspirational album. You da' man, Neal Morse.
In summary, I'd definitely recommend that local hikers try to visit Uplands Farm Sanctuary. This preserve doesn't disappoint. Frankly, none of the Nature Conservancy's preserves do. Just be prepared to crave a glass of milk once you're done exploring this former dairy farm.
Video: Uplands Farm Sanctuary (360-degree view)