Below you’ll find a group of images which I captured last autumn at three different locations on Long Island’s Paumanok Path – a hiking trail largely brought about through the efforts of groups like the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference and the Southampton and East Hampton Trail Preservation Societies. It is enjoyed by a core of devoted hikers, mountain bikers, and naturalists here on Long Island, but for better or worse, the path is little known elsewhere.
Lying beyond the bulk of the island’s celebrated suburbs and traffic jams, the trail winds its way through an array of preserves for an astonishing 125 miles. Over several days it’s possible to walk from Rocky Point east to Riverhead, eventually entering the quiet forests of the South Fork and proceeding for another thirty miles to the Montauk Lighthouse. Your hike will conclude with a view of the ocean surf as it pounds the offshore boulders. During your hike you would have bypassed the villages of eastern Long Island in relative solitude, occasionally crossing a road. Your tired feet would’ve enjoyed the distinct tread of a long walk in sandy woods across pine needles. This is not wilderness and you would have had to tolerate the sporadic sound of distant cars, but you would’ve listened to more birdsongs than complaints on your walk, and you might’ve encountered more turtles and turkeys than other human beings. If you completed this hike, you’d understand one reason why the woods occupying the fish-tailed half of Long Island are a well-kept secret.
Before reaching Riverhead, The Paumanok Path traverses a group of protected land parcels totaling more than 100,000 acres. This is the pine barrens near Manorville where Pitch Pines grow in seemingly endless numbers. It crosses through countless kettle holes and goes up and down glacial moraines. In Hampton Bays you can walk to tea-colored ponds ringed by rare Atlantic White Cedars. Further out in East Hampton there are hundreds of acres of White Pines said to be a remnant population from the last ice age, and in Amagansett you’ll find beech forests that might remind you of places you once visited in New England. In the Point Woods near Montauk you can stand beneath a canopy of salt-blown trees hundreds of years old, and from bluffs in Hither Woods you can gaze from the trail north across a glassy bay to Gardiners Island and beyond.
In November, wild cranberries may be picked in places along the trail and those who won’t be stopped by the presence of ticks can snack on blueberries in July almost anywhere. Indeed, the biodiversity of both plants and animals which thrive along the Paumanok Path rivals that of many wild places in our country much larger and far more famous. If you live here you may not have known you had such a good place to walk, and if you’ve been told that Long Island’s best hikes are in shopping malls then you’ve been misled.
Now to the pictures. The photograph of the maple leaves and pine needles was taken near Chatfield’s Hole in the Northwest Woods area of East Hampton. The image of the lily pads was taken while standing in the murky waist-deep water of Scoy Pond near Cedar Point. The detail of the Scrub Oak leaves was shot near Manorville where the trees grow in profuse tangles. All these places can be accessed from the Paumanok Path. There seems to be no end to possible studies of details like these along the path- especially in the fall.