Butler-Huntington Woods

Location: St. James, NY

Size: 66 acres

Date of hike: Oct. 25, 2014

Butler-Huntington Woods is one of those places that hundreds of people probably pass every day without giving it a glance.  Its entrance is located on Fifty Acre Road in St. James, just south of Branglebrink Road, but there's no parking lot.  There's just a dirt patch big enough to fit two cars.  Because of that, I was skeptical this would even be a worthwhile hike.  Surely, a worthwhile site would call for a larger lot.  But then I thought back to David Weld Sanctuary, which is another Nature Conservancy spot with little parking and that place was breathtaking.  And so, I was willing to give Butler-Huntington a chance.

Butler-Huntington's hilly ridges were made long ago by glaciers that basically bulldozed the preserve's woodlands and left "pulverized materials," according to the Nature Conservancy's website.  "The grounds of Butler-Huntington Woods hold the key to Long Island's icy past," the website said.  "The wooded hills and ravines of Butler-Huntington Woods are part of the Harbor Hill Moraine, which is a hilly ridge marking the place where the ice sheets paused."  The marshy depressions, or swales, between the high ridges cut a natural trail system that lasts several miles, the website said.  Another fun fact is that the watershed created by the glacier-changed hills once supplied water to Mill Creek, which powered a gristmill and also flowed into the nearby Nissequogue River.  Regarding ownership, the land was given to the conservancy by brothers William R. Huntington and Rev. Christopher Huntington in 1961.

The Butler-Huntington trail was recommended to me a few weeks earlier by my friend Chris, a big geocaching enthusiast who had also previously recommended Lily Pond County Park in Nesconset.  He had described Butler-Huntington as "a hidden gem," and he was spot on.  As soon as I started along the well-marked trail, I felt like I'd been swept away into a private paradise.  There were no other cars parked along the road, so I knew I was the only one on the trail.  That gave me a freeing feeling.  To me, isolation often makes a hike extra special.  It's a way to escape people and places and just totally absorb the atmosphere around you.  And sometimes, we all need a little escape from the various people and places in our lives. 

A half-hour into the hike, I experienced a deep inner peace and connection with myself that I hadn't felt on any other local trails this year.  Maybe it was the solitude of Butler-Huntington.  Or maybe it was the comfortable fall weather.  Whatever the reasons, I felt like I was able to glimpse into the darkest caverns of my soul for a brief time.  I felt a sense of extreme clarity.  My song selection probably helped.  I picked Evergrey's 2014 album Hymns for the Broken, which explores the ponderous concept of inner revolution with a well-crafted war metaphor.

The trail looped back relatively quickly, and within an hour I was back where I began.  A nice, quick, to-the-point hike.  But I didn't head back to the car.  My mind was so "in the moment" that I decided to hike the preserve a second time.  I also enjoyed another dose of Evergrey.  Knowing that no one else was anywhere around, I intensely headbanged with every step.

Looking back, I wouldn't travel a long distance to come hike Butler-Huntington, but I'd widely recommend it if you live in the Smithtown area and are looking for a brief, yet delightful, hike.  Luckily, I live close.  So this is one of those spots I'll be visiting again soon.  That's for sure.



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