Bayard Cutting Arboretum
Location: Great River, NY
Size: 691 acres
Date of hike: Dec. 15, 2018
The Bayard Cutting Arboretum is the first arboretum I've visited
on Long Island. For those who don't know, an arboretum is a botanical
garden devoted to trees. But, in addition to its trees, this arboretum's
biggest attraction for me is the Connetquot River, a six-mile waterway that's at its widest as it
flows alongside the arboretum toward Nicoll Bay. Having spent parts of my
childhood exploring the picturesque river within Lakeland County Park and
Connetquot River State Park Preserve, it was finally time to experience the
river's section within Bayard.
My pre-hike research told me the property was
purchased by a man named William Bayard Cutting in 1881 and includes a mansion
as well as the site's beautiful arboretum, which was designed in 1886, according to the New York
State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's website.
The mansion, called "Westbrook," was modeled after a Tudor-style English country
house and contains large oak furniture pieces, stained-glass windows and imported fireplaces, among other things. "The estate mansion is
maintained in its original style with furnishings typical of the estate era,"
the website said. In 1936, Bayard Cutting's daughter gifted 200
acres of the estate to the Long Island State Park Commission with the stipulation that she and her mother keep use of the land as long as
either of them are alive. The property was officially opened to the
public in 1954 and was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places in
1973. Today, the park is intended to offer an "oasis of beauty and quiet for
the pleasure, rest and refreshment of those who take delight in outdoor beauty,"
according to the Bayard's official website. It also defined the arboretum as a "passive park," with pets and activities such as biking, picnicking, sports, bathing
and games not permitted.
The arboretum's entrance is located on the south side of Montauk
Highway (NY Route 27A), just east of Connetquot Avenue. There's an $8
vehicle fee from April through November, and the hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. from
April through October and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. from November through March.
It's closed on Mondays. The parking lot is big enough for a few dozen
cars, but it was relatively empty on this day aside from a group of people attending a formal event inside the impressive Manor
House. Although I didn't take a guided tour, which is available
seasonally, I did explore the house's first floor – including a café with stunning views of the Connetquot
River. In addition, a retrospective photo exhibit inside the mansion shows that Westbrook was "once a well-known dairy farm that produced glass-bottled
milk for sale in local markets," according to the state's website, which
also noted that one of the estate's original barns remains in the park's farm
area. "It's a wonderful place
to relax, read a book, and experience the peace and serenity of estate living
in the 1920s and '30s," the site said.
After enjoying the view from a comfortable chair behind the
mansion, I hit up the River Walk that is parallel to the Connetquot
River. "The Connetquot is part
of the South Shore Estuary Reserve, a system of interconnected rivers, streams,
wetlands and bays," said one of many signs scattered along the walk. "Underground springs feed the river with a constant supply of cool, clean and
fresh water." The river is described as being "brackish and fairly
shallow," having a depth of "two to four feet," and getting its name from an
Indian word that means a "great or wide body of water," according to signs. There's also a 110-room mansion across the river that was once part of William Kissam Vanderbilt's "Idle Hour" estate, as well as a portion of river on the Vanderbilt side that was
once dredged to accommodate the family's large steam
yacht. Apparently, the mansion would change hands many times until 1963, when
Adelphi Suffolk College purchased it and named it "Dowling College," a
Other cool spots in the arboretum are Paradise Island and Breezy Island, which are located on opposite ends of the River Walk. Unfortunately, Paradise Island was temporarily closed during my
visit due to a recent eagle's nest, but a sign said that a bridge
to the island was built in the late 1800s with local locust trees so it would blend with its natural
environment. "At 250 feet long and 20 feet wide, the bridge had ample
room for a horse-drawn carriage," the sign said. "In later
years, Mrs. Cutting drove her electric car across the bridge to have lunch at
the South Side Sportsmen's Club." The bridge was dismantled in the early 1960s, but the remains
can still be seen at low tide. Meanwhile, Breezy Island was created using the soil dredged to accommodate the Vanderbilt's yacht and a rustic structure was added where Mrs. Cutting would take tea. The structure was razed in 1965 and rebuilt in 2017.
Now let's talk trees. From what I read, much of Bayard Cutting's original conifer collection was lost as a result of Hurricane Gloria in 1985, but due to subsequent plantings the park's current
collections of fir, spruce, pine, cypress, hemlock, yew and lesser-known conifer
are "still probably the most extensive to be found on Long Island," the
arboretum's website said. "Contained within the collection are several
trees which, regionally, are among the largest of their species." Also found throughout the property are extensive plantings of trees such as dwarf evergreens, rhododendrons,
azaleas, hollies and oaks. In addition, most of the trees are labelled so that
visitors can learn how they might appear at home, the state's site said.
With regard to fish, you'll find everything from striped bass to
white perch to eels. The river's fresh water end can also contain an
occasional trout that escaped from the Connetquot River State Park Preserve,
where there is a large trout hatchery, a sign said. With regard to birds,
you'll see everything from buffleheads to egrets to herons. Ospreys also return to breed and raise their young every March. "They seek
out the same nest used in past years and repair it to have a head start on
raising their young," a sign said. "During the spring and summers,
osprey parents raise two or three chicks, feeding them fish caught in the
Other important facts are that the arboretum's farm
produces over 150 varieties of vegetables and berries and also grows culinary herbs
and flowers, while some 150 hens provide eggs to members of the park's Community Supported Agriculture programs, according to Wikipedia. Also, a
permit is required for all posed photography – including wedding photography,
family photos and engagement photos. The fee is $100 for an
hour-and-a-half session during park hours and permits must be obtained before
the event date, according to the state's website.
In closing, I'd say that Bayard Cutting Arboretum is a must-see
spot for all outdoor lovers on Long Island. It has everything from hiking
to history to horticulture packed into one location. Plus, the River Walk is the perfect way to
experience the splendor of the Connetquot River. And, of course,
there's the beautiful trees. After all, what's an arboretum without its trees?
Video: Bayard Cutting Arboretum (360-degree view)