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The Paumanok Path is the most awe-inspiring of Long Island’s hiking trails.  I now had the opportunity to blaze a section of this trail in Laurel Valley County Park for future hikers to follow.  This section of trail will one day be part of a continuous path over 120 miles long.  A regional initiative involving many people, several groups and agencies.  This recreational path will run from Rocky Point, in Brookhaven, to Montauk Point.  *  This is a trail that gives the visitor to the “Wilds of Long Island” many miles of breathtakingly beautiful vistas, coastal plain ponds, glacial kettles, and erratics and marshes teaming with varied and wondrous life.  A walk along a small segment of this path will often encompass several unique ecosystems.  I only had a mile of trail to blaze, yet around each bend I found a different forest community or geological feature.

Traveling along the crest of a hill, I saw a stand of Oak trees.  I then descended into an area of tightly bunched knurled branches, a distinctive feature of Laurel woods.  In places the branches from either side of the path joined above me to give an experience similar to walking through a tunnel.  As I passed a glacial erratic, I looked down into a shadow filled kettle.  Maybe the origin of this park’s name “Laurel Valley” can be found in these glacial kettles.  Further along, only a few feet from the path the understory was carpeted with delicately leafed bracken fern.  Only a few moments later I was surrounded by some beech trees, I marveled at their rounded crowns formed by horizontal branches.  Soon I came to an area where a fox had left its scent.  A little further along the trail I saw a den dug into the side of a hill.  I enjoyed the familiar cry of a hawk and the drumming of a woodpecker.  All this time I was expending a lot of energy determining the best placement of the Paumanok Path’s white rectangular blazes.  This 148-acre parcel of land is relatively small, but I had been told that several people had been lost for long periods of time in Southampton’s enchanted little forest.

I was so engrossed in what I was doing, and determined to blaze this trail so well that no one would ever get lost in it again, that ultimately I found myself painting on a tree trunk that I could no longer see.  Suddenly I was surrounded by a night as dark as any I had ever experienced.  I had been carrying a flashlight with me for several months.  I was prepared for this emergency.  Unfortunately, my flashlight was having an emergency of its own.  My heart beat accelerated to the point where I thought I could hear it pounding in my head.  I began to sweat.

“Don’t panic,” I counseled myself, “there is nothing in these woods that can hurt me.”  I was going to be calm.  I had to acclimate myself to this world turned suddenly very alien.

My breathing returned to normal, and I suddenly realized that the pounding, which I thought originated inside my head, was coming from somewhere else.  It was a regular noise more like a hiss than a pounding.  When my calm returned I became certain that this noise was not coming from me.  It was too regular in tempo.  This had to be caused by some kind of mechanical device.  Tsh tsh tsh tsh tsh.   I once heard a warbler make a sound similar to this when I inadvertently came too close to its nest.

I began to follow this sound to its source.  Without the help of vision, my other senses intensified in their acuity.  I was tasting the different types of pollen in the air and smelling the proximity of tree bark or fern.  I could hear the wildlife and smell flowers with a clarity I had never before experienced.  I found I could somehow sense the character of the topography around me.  Navigation towards the “mechanical warbler” was growing easier by the moment.  Finally, I broke out onto a level meadow - except that this was no meadow!  I had found the “mechanical bird”, which was squirting identically measured streams of water; tsh tsh tsh tsh tsh.  My eyes acclimated to the artificial light, and I could see that I was standing between a small pond and a sand trap on Noyak Golf Course.

*The Paumanok Path project is a regional initiative undertaken through the cooperative efforts of New York State Parks and Department of Environmental Conservation, Suffolk County, Southampton Town, East Hampton Town, The Peconic Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, South Fork Natural History Society, Long Islands Greenbelt Trails Conference, Southampton Trails Preservation Society, East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, Group for the South Fork and many private landowners.

Laurel Valley County Park

There is a kiosk on Deerfield Rd. opposite the entrance to North Side Hills (Deerwood Path).  It is just south of Noyac Rd.  There is room for several cars to park on the shoulder of the road. Hike both the long and short loops. The Southampton Trails Preservation Society has produced an excellent map of the park and they also lead hikes there ().  During the winter there are views of Peconic Bay.  Explore the gently rolling knob and kettle topography and enjoy a wide variety of plant and animal life. If you have never walked through a laurel woods, this is an experience you should not miss.

You can also enter this park from the southern most point of Wildwood Road on the south side of Noyac Road. You will find this entrance just east of the Morton National Wildlife Refuge, which is on the north side of Noyack Road.

Morton National Wildlife Preserve

Laurel Valley




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