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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
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
“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
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 (631-537-5202). 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.
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