Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hiking The Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail - Part 2

This past Father's Day we didn't really have anything special planned after we got home from taking the kids to see Marmaduke, so I figured I would take advantage of the sunny weather in the early evening to go for a solitary hike.

Last year, I had hiked a section of the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail between Jericho Turnpike up to just shy of Stillwell Woods in Syosset. This time, I wanted to tackle a different part of the trail. I settled on entering the trail at Old Bethpage Road, with the goal of going as far north as the Northern State Parkway and then turning onto a loop trail called the Parkway Tower Loop Trail and use it to swing back south before rejoining the Greenbelt Trail on Washington Avenue in Plainview.

The section of trail at Old Bethpage Road is a flat, narrow strip that was originally slated to be part of a northward extension of the Bethpage State Parkway some years ago. There are very few trees and the vegetation consists of bushes and tall plants. As a novice birder, I paused a few times to listen to the cacophony of bird calls. There were a lot of gray catbirds and some red wing black birds, to name a few. This stretch of the trail, as well as presumably the section further south towards Haypath Road into Bethpage State Park, is very easy and would be ideal for young children as well.

The trail leads out to Old Country Road near an entrance road to some buildings owned by the county of Nassau. Crossing north on Old Country Road, the trail picks up again near a bus stop kiosk. In this section, trees begin to predominate and the ground rises slowly. The tree cover increases the further north you go, causing a concomitant decrease in the sunlight.

After about five minutes or so, I noticed a side trail that ran off to the right, and in the distance, a tree with what looked like some kind of tree house on it. I decided to take a closer look. The tree had some wood planking on it in a couple of sections, and between two large limbs some green chain link fence had been fastened into a hammock. On the ground a few feet from the tree was a car seat. Scattered on the ground around the tree were water bottles and cans of ice tea. I would guess that the site is used as a hangout by students from either the Plainview High School or the Mattlin Middle School, as both were close by. Given the absence of beer cans or bottles, it was more likely a haunt for middle school students. I decided to name the tree "The Party Tree" and returned to the main trail to continue my northward journey.

The trail continued a few minutes longer before reaching Washington Avenue. To rejoin the trail, one has to cross Washinton Avenue and then turn right and walk underneath the Long Island Expressway overpass until coming on an opening in the chain link fence on the left side.

This portion of the trail was very hilly, with lots of rises and dips. It can be a bit strenuous and for parents who want to bring children with them on nature walks, I would not recommend this section for kids under the age of 12. The tree cover here was even greater than the previous section. For those interested in birdwatching, this part of the trail was Blue Jay country. The air was filled with their screeching "jay!" and I saw quite a number of them flying around high in the tree tops. At one point, up ahead, I spied some larger bird that I could not identify swoop down amongst the trees and then it appeared to be chased out by a squadron of Blue Jays who seemed determined to defend their territory from other avian intruders.

As I continued further north, I knew from consulting the map in the book I carried with me, Hiking Long Island by Lee McAllister, that I would soon reach the Northern State Parkway. I started looking for signs to point me to the Parkway Tower Loop Trail. As the Northern State Parkway came into view, I continued to look for the trail marker without success. I stood there, baffled for a moment, not sure of what to do. I decided to turn around and head back and perhaps I might spot the trail marker heading in the reverse direction, and if I didn't, I would just go back the way I had come.

Well, my strategy worked. I didn't see the trail marker, but I spotted what looked like a trail. It was overgrown with grass, but it was clearly a trail. I still didn't see a trail marker, but I decided that this had to be the Parkway Tower Loop Trail and forged ahead. Very soon, the grass cover ended, and the trail became rocky. But as I continued along, I got the sense that this trail was not being maintained at all, as certain parts were overgrown or had tree limbs lying across it. Here and there a tree would me marked with a white rectangle with a blue circle inside it, which was the sign for the trail.

The Northern State Parkway was to my left, and to my right were the backyards of houses that were on Harvard Road. I could even see some people in their backyards and for a moment I felt a little awkward tramping along in the woods in my hiking gear. After about ten minutes, the trail turned south and led into a small field. A little bit further on and I was back on Washington Avenue again. I crossed over to the other side and walked past the St. Margaret Episcopal Church and cemetary. The sun was beginning to set, and while there was still daylight, I knew I did not have much time before it got dark.

After the cemetary, there was a strip of woods again. I saw a trail marker, but I could not discern any trail. On the other side of the trees was a road that led into the Kaplan Center. I walked down the road trying to see if I could figure out where the trail continued but had no luck. I had no choice but to walk south on Washington Road past the Long Island Expressway and head back south on the Greenbelt Trail. I probably walked nearly a mile before I got there.

With the darkness beginning to descend, I picked up my pace. I had my water bottle in my waistpack and secured it by closing the zipper on it. However, periodically, the zippler loosened and I would have to re-zip it.

As the last light faded away, I crossed Old Country Road and was on the last leg of the trip back. At this point, I noticed how eerily quiet it had become in contrast to the noisy bird calls that predominated earlier. I was relieved knowing that I was almost back at my car when I suddenly became aware that something was wrong. I looked down at my waistpack and saw that my water bottle was gone. I had a feeling that it must have just fallen out and I walked back a few steps to look for it, but it was very nearly pitch black, and I had no chance of finding the bottle, which was blue.

There was nothing more I could do but go back to my car and see if I had a flashlight. I did, but it didn't work. Still, I didn't like the idea of leaving my bottle on the trail. For one, I didn't want to have to buy a new one. Second, I hate littering and loathed the prospect of littering the trail. So, I decided to go home, grab a flashlight, and return. When I told my wife about it when I got home, she said "Just forget about it." But I couldn't. I grabbed a flashlight, as well as a glow stick in the event that the batteries died on the flashlight, and drove back to where I had begun my hike several hours earlier.

It was now about 9:30 and well past sundown. As I shined my flashlight ahead of me as I retraced my steps, I felt like I was in The Blair Witch Project. To my disappointment, I did not find the water bottle where I thought I had dropped it. The last I had remembered seeing it was when I took a few sips of water by the LIE overpass before getting on the trail at Washington Avenue. I did not relish the thought of walking that far again. I pressed on, crossing Old Country Road, going on another five minutes or so. I decided against continuing on to Washington Avenue and hoped that I had already passed the point where I had lost the bottle. Besides, since I had dropped the bottle on the way back to the car, I had a better chance of spotting it on the return journey.

As I crossed Old Country Road again, I caught something on the other side of the street by the curb in my flashlight beam. Walking towards it with my light shined on it, I was pleased to see that it was indeed my water bottle. I did not see it when I was retracing my steps earlier, because it was obscured by the curb. But going in the other direction, I was in a position to see it clearly. Tired and soaked with sweat, I gladly made my way back to my car, drove home, and took a much needed shower.

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