Long Island Greenbelt Trail: First Blaze
Before I took Brandon and Sofia to National Parks out in Wyoming and Montana this summer, I wanted to make sure we were prepared to spend some substantial time hiking. The easy part was purchasing all the gear we needed; hydration daypacks, solid hiking boots, wool socks, layers of clothing to start the cool mornings, compass, binoculars, cameras to start. It’s always fun to explain to a 7 year old how delicate a digital camera is; only to turn around and they start swinging it around like a lasso :-)
The other crucial part of our preparation was to get some miles in on trails around Long Island; both for our legs and to break in our boots. My older kids already are used to logging some
extended time on many paths in the area. We’ve spent time hiking in the past year or two at several parks, preserves and national historic sites. We didn’t even realize at the time that when we ventured off the red trail at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, made a wrong turn on the ‘blue’ at Blydenburgh and followed the path down to the Kings Park Bluff one afternoon that we were actually on the Long Island Greenbelt (AKA White) Trail, which extends 32 miles from the Long Island Sound in the North to the Great South Bay in the South!
Well, we put a lot of work in before our trip out West and it helped us explore several amazing loops and ‘out and back’ trails such as Natural Bridge, St. Mary’s Falls, Trail of the Cedars and Uncle Tom’s Trail in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
When we returned to the Empire State the momentum remained. Brandon and I hiked 6.5 miles around Stump Pond in Blydenburgh Park and we took his sister up to Watkins Glen State Park to hike the Gorge Trail. We’ve hiked a bit more around The North Side of the Trail, gone to learn about and handle frogs at Connetquot River State Park Preserve and pulled over and snapped some shots of deer relaxing in the grass at Heckscher State Park in East Islip.
This is our first ‘chapter’ in a series we’ll publish about exploring the many parts of the Greenbelt Trail, section by section. I’ve hiked and run up to 10 miles at a time on the North and Mid-Island parts of the trail to-date, and the kids have done various smaller routes with me. These articles will be a collection of the many adventures we’ve shared or I’ve done on my own; sometimes starting at the KP Bluff, the South Marina in Nissequogue RIver State Park, or at Blydenburth; heading North to Caleb Smith or South across Rt 111 to Hunts Pond Preserve.
We hope it’s not confusing as we stitch together all these quests. Here we go!
I run frequently at Sunken Meadow State Park in Fort Salonga. Ok, may I should call it jogging. Sunken Meadow is a nationally recognized location for cross country running. There are challenging 5k and 10k trails marked off near the picnic areas and through the woods. Snake Hill and Cardiac Hill are some of the names of the tough climbs, so you can tell this isn’t a light and easy route. When I run Saturday or Sunday mornings – at least when I first started running last September – I’d be huffing and puffing about 3 miles in and would get lapped by a band of runners at a pace 3 miles per hours faster than me without breaking much of a sweat. So I’m not in their league. Ok, I’m fine with that, I’m still out there!
I often start at the west end of the 3/4 mile boardwalk at Sunken Meadow Beach. I initially was just running back and forth 4x to get a 5k in, but later started exploring the path from the grass at Field 3 across to the picnic area and rest of the well known routes. My dad was a track coach and I often tagged along as a young kids to watch his Roslyn teams compete on the weekends.
Unfortunately just under a year ago Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to the man-made dam and the dirt path across the dam that was used to reach the picnic area and trails washed away. The remains of the dam have been removed but progress is slow in replacing it. Therefore I’ve started to run starting at the actual first blaze, or white paint marking that kicks off the North end of the LI Greenbelt.
The kids have been here several times; watching the geese take over the grass, seeing fish jump in the water on either side of the bridge, playing on the playgrounds and – yes – hiking with me!
From Brandon, 10: “We were preparing for our future hikes in Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton. We had gotten everything ready to go on a hike at Sunken Meadow to break in our boots. We brought our backpacks with water and a compass. When we were walking to the front of the trail (which we later found out is the start of the Greenbelt Trail) I tripped and got a really bad cut with lots of blood all over. So before we even started the trail we had to go back home. I was sad I didn’t get to hike with all that planning”.
As you cross the bridge you eventually make your way to one of the picnic areas. Following the blazes, you turn East and head up a hill. Towards the left side you can continue on along a fence that reaches high into the bluffs. Straight ahead to the right you can reach into other trails such as the ‘blue’. Right in the middle is a thin path with a sign warning about ticks and lyme disease. I’ll say it this one time; WEAR A HAT! Whether it’s freezing out or muggy and hot, protect your head and make sure you also check your hair and body when you get back to your car.
As you continue along the Greenbelt, you weave to the left, to the right, up an incline and back down along some wood steps or just slowly dropping down along some exposed tree roots.
This is a good time to mention; when hiking or running on these trails, I find I can’t maintain the speed I want. I’m busy looking at the blazes so I don’t get lost. When running I try to keep the pace up, but when hiking I often stop to take a pic (if I take my phone with me that day), or just to take in the sights.
Look at the pic below and tell me you wouldn’t want to stop and just stare! This is from high up over the Kings Park Bluffs; where the Nissequogue River and the Long Island Sound connect. As you hike along the many twists and turns you see specks of blue water to your left and when it finally opens up it’s a real reward! I used to take my dogs down to the KP Bluff with my friends as a teenager and later in college to fetch a tennis ball in the water. I’ve kayaked and rowed in those waters also – along with Sofia and Alana (and their mom when we were dating) down through the Nissequogue River into Smithtown.
After just more than a mile, the trail takes you down into the parking area at the Bluff. You will find people fishing, couples on a park bench holding hands, walking their dog, putting their feet in the water and just chilling out in the lot with friends.
I once ran across Callahan’s Beach to the West across to Sunken Meadow, then KP Bluff – all along the beach and had to jump across (aka swim) to get back to the shore line when I came across too far out on the sand. I still have a few scars on my left wrist from that escapade! That day I added 5 more miles and then ended at home but it’s the first 3 on the beaches that caused my legs to hate me the next day. Running on beach sand takes getting used to. Even at Robert Moses those calf muscles tighten up pretty quick.
At the Bluff Marina one can pull their truck up and drop their boat into the water, the Greenbelt Trail continues across the beachfront until you reach a set of stairs to continue up high into the woods within the Nissequogue River State Park. I’ve hiked this area with the kids a few times. We didn’t realize we were on the ‘white’ trail at the time but hiking up through to the Bluff and walked on the beach. The kids came upon a large crab shell and slowly walked up to it and checked it out. Alana was more apprehensive then the others, of course :-)
Ok, the kids have to get off to bed since it’s a school night. We hope you enjoyed the beginning of our adventure across Long Island. Our next chapter will include hiking alongside more bluffs and marshes along the Nissequogue River, through the Village of San Remo, across the Smithtown Landing Country Club, along some residential neighborhoods of Smithtown, through the backwoods of Sweetbriar Nature Center until one reaches the Smithtown Bull, “Whisper”, which I believe to be about 10+ miles in from the start of the Greenbelt. Just past the Bull is where you enter back in through a thin gate at the back of Caleb Smith State Park Preserve. Ok, I don’t want to give away too much, you will have to check back on 1Quest2theNext soon!
- Camping at Blydenburgh County Park (1quest2thenext.com)
- Greenbelt Trail: 32 Miles from Long Island Sound to Great South Bay (1quest2thenext.com)
- Yellowstone National Park, Day 5
- Glacier National Park, Day 9
- Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve
- Up around the bend in Watkins Glen (AKA who needs a cell phone anyway) (1quest2thenext.com)