Connetquot River State Park Preserve

Location: Oakdale, NY 

Size: 3,473 acres 

Date of hike: March 12-13, 2016

It's hard to believe that I haven't blogged before now about Connetquot River State Park Preserve.  It's one of the first parks I visited as a child, along with Lakeland County Park in Islandia.  Both parks are within miles of my childhood home, so I'd frequently sneak into the woods as a boy on my bike to explore the numerous trails.  Well, it was time to turn back the clock and explore it anew.  But this time, totally on foot.

The Connetquot River State Park Preserve is Long Island's largest state park and is named after one of Long Island's largest rivers: the seven-mile-long Connetquot River.  Interestingly, the word "Connetquot" comes from the Secatogue tribe's word for "great river," according to several websites.  It was founded in 1866 by the Southside Sportsmen's Club of Long Island, whose guests included Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's website.  The club owned the land until 1963, at which time members sold it to New York State under an agreement the preserve stay intact for future generations, and the river and its surrounding acres became New York State's first park preserve in 1978.  The park is also home for the Long Island Environmental Interpretive Center, an educational facility that provides year-round programs and activities.  Regarding wildlife, the park has a large number of deer and waterfowl, rare nesting birds including osprey, and flora including trailing arbutus and pink lady's slipper.  It also boasts 50 miles of hiking, horseback riding, cross-country ski and nature trails, as well as fishing with a permit only, the website said.

Upon entering the preserve, a polite older woman working the front booth told me the vehicle entrance fee is $8, which I happily paid.  She also gave me a map featuring four color-coded trails and mentioned an audio tour accessible via cell phone.  The map said to call a certain phone number to start the tour and then keep an eye out for the tour markers along the trail.  By entering the number on a respective marker, hikers could be treated to a short summary of "what they're looking at and what to look for," the paper said.  A trail map is also available for download through the state's website, I later learned.  After parking, I strolled passed the park's picturesque structures to admire the grist mill and Main Pond.  My pre-hike research said the grist mill's restoration is nearly finished thanks to recent grants and would be open for tours soon, according to the Friends of Connetquot River State Park Preserve's website.  While at the pond, I kept my eyes on the sky in hopes of spotting a bald eagle, which the site said has been seen almost daily there this year.  No such luck for me, unfortunately.

The map featured four trails: blue (8.4 miles), green (3.9 miles), red (3.7 miles) and yellow (1.0 miles).  The blue trail is a loop from Sunrise Highway (NY Route 27) north to Veterans Memorial Highway (NY Route 454) and back again.  The green trail seems to mostly follow the Long Island Greenbelt Trail, a 32-mile long trail that spans Long Island from East Islip to Kings Park.  The red trail is a loop just east of the pond, while the yellow is an out-and-back trail just west of the pond.  Despite the well-marked trails, I opted to simply wander around.  One thing I noticed is the park has many grassy paths that seemed to once be real roads.  There was also countless piles of manure and a high volume of ticks.  In fact, there were about a dozen microscopic ticks on my socks by the hike's end, which freaked me out.  Luckily, I tucked my pants into my socks and my shirt into my pants, so none bit me. 

Two of the preserve's bigger highlights are Bunces Bridge and the 100-year-old fish hatchery, which remains the only state hatchery on Long Island and is among the oldest in the nation.  "Although the river water provides favorable environment for the trout, the hatchery staff take special measures to nurture high concentrations of trout here," a sign said.  I later read that hatchery upgrades are in the works with water to supply the hatchery house and raise trout eggs coming in the near future.  As for the bridge, it's apparently named for Samuel Bunce, who operated the mill in the 1930s.  "Long before the current bridge was built in the 1990s, people were crossing the river at this location," a sign said.  Other park signs cover topics ranging from the lifestyle of buck moths to the "unique ability" of oaks to recover from fire.

Since darkness was descending, I chose to call it a day and come back the next morning to explore the park's northernmost section that borders Veterans Memorial Highway.  This time, I parked on the highway's roadside behind a few other cars near a small entrance to the park just east of Connetquot Avenue.  I did some geocaching and used the prior day's trail map to locate the remnants of a chicken farm.  Only the farm's foundation was left over, with twisted trees growing through cement in an eerie scene.  The farm was once called Madeleine Farm, according to a geocaching description.  I was glad that I took the extra effort to check it out.

My music on this day was Riverside's 2005 album, Second Life Syndrome.  I've been trying to sink my teeth into the Polish progressive metal band's catalog in recent weeks since the sudden death of guitarist Piotr Grudziński.  The prior week I had listened to the band's 2003 debut album, Out of Myself, and it was outstanding.  So I was pumped for their second disc.  It definitely met my expectations.  Mariusz Duda's reflective lyrics are perfect for a nice hike.

All in all, Connetquot River State Park Preserve is a must see for every hiker on Long Island.  It's very big, so if you're short on time I recommend focusing on the park’s southern section.  Regardless of what part of the park you explore, you're in for a big treat as Connetquot is a truly "great river" – both literally and figuratively.  In fact, "great" is a major understatement.

(Updated: Aug. 19, 2018)

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