Image by Caroline Parker
By Caroline Parker
We Seawolves go non-stop from daylight to dusk, from the first day of classes until Thanksgiving, without a break. In this way, the arrival of fall, one of the most beautiful times of year, is sometimes overshadowed by midterms. If you feel on the verge of losing your mind, break away from campus and lose yourself in the tranquility of these nearby nature spots. Even just thirty minutes in the woods–smelling the peat, feeling the breeze, hearing the creatures scurrying about–offers so many unseen benefits for your mental, physical and emotional health.
- Frank Melville Memorial Park
1 Old Field Rd, Setauket- East Setauket, NY 11733
Distance from campus: 3.2 miles/6min drive/15min bike ride
Features: Bamboo forest, swans, historic structures, community events
The Frank Melville Memorial Park spans 24 acres that encompass a natural woodland, estuary, bamboo forest, meadow and hundreds of varieties of plants. Yet it is not only an exquisite environmental destination, but a historical one as well. You’ll see five structures that are included on the National Register of Historic Places. Among them is the 20th century classic red Bates Barn, where many community events from yoga and writing workshops to watercolor painting and live concerts are held. With the picturesque stone bridge and old-fashioned grist mill, and with the swans and turtles and marshes and towering trees, you will easily lose yourself in both the natural and historic beauty that surrounds Setauket Village. I went here for a brisk walk before my Spanish midterm on Monday morning, sharing the winding paths with joggers, dog-walkers and photographers, and I left feeling refreshed and clear-headed–in other words, ready to ace my exam.
- Avalon Park & Preserve
200 Harbor Rd, Stony Brook, NY 11790
Distance from campus: 2.2 miles/5min drive/15min bike ride
Features: Forest trails, farm fields, labyrinth, Avalon Asana, Avalon Skylab
The purchase and restoration of this land began in 1997, gifting visitors today with hiking paths that bring them right into an incredibly tranquil Long Island wildlife habitat. The natural tree species have returned and are thriving, including massive oaks, American beech, black birch, red maple and re-sprouting American chestnut. My friend and I visited Avalon on a rainy day, but in some ways that enhanced our experience. The wet soil diffused an extra sweet aroma from the earth, and we remarked on just how quiet it was–decibels below the usual campus clatter. We scrambled up steep slopes, pausing beside fallen trees encrusted with mushrooms, and trotted down sandy staircases. I won’t spoil all the hidden surprises for you, but plan to return to Avalon again and again for all the natural diversity there is to see, smell and hear (or to maybe take one of the yoga or astronomy classes they offer!).
- Kings Park Bluff
Old Dock Rd, Kings Park, NY 11754
Distance from campus: 10 miles/20min drive
Features: Sandy trails, incredible coastline and seascape views
Arguably one of the most beautiful spots on long island, the Bluffs are well worth the extra travel time. Not only are there jaw-dropping views of the bay from the hiking trails high above the beach, but there is also the option of sledding down the sandy slopes–why not start practicing for the snow a few months early? Here, the scent of fall mingles with ocean spray, and you’re certain to see plenty of coastal wildlife: woodland and beach birds, mollusks and maybe even a horseshoe crab. While I was at the Bluffs, I gazed at the horizon where blue meets blue, a quote from a book I’d just finished reading came to mind. In Where’d You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple writes, “When your eyes are softly focused on the horizon for sustained periods, your brain releases endorphins. It’s the same as a runner’s high. These days, we spend our lives staring at screens twelve inches in front of us.” I think she might be onto something…so definitely check this one out. You’ll be so glad you did.
- Makamah Nature Preserve
Fort Salonga Rd, Fort Salonga, NY 11768
Distance from campus: 14.5 miles/26min drive
Features: Nearby Crab Meadow and Makamah Beach, 160 acres of trails
This enormous woodland conservancy is one of my favorites because the trails make for great biking as well as hiking. Cyclists, be forewarned that the terrain is tough, extremely rocky and considerably overgrown in parts, so use caution as you whip around bends on the main throughway. Hikers, many times I simply go for a leisurely stroll to see how many chipmunks, turtles or hawks might appear. I’ve run into a great many “twitchers” (that is, “bird watchers”) during my visits, who patiently gaze at the treetops for a glimpse of any of the dozens of bird species (i.e. Great Horned Owls, Egret, Indigo Bunting). Makamah not only has abundant wildlife, but visitors can go deeper and deeper into the woods, so that every visit reveals some undiscovered pond or clearing or view. If you somehow tire of all the towering trees, exit on Makamah Road and head straight down–you’ll come to a beautiful, stony beach where you can get an endorphin rush from the breathtaking harbor horizon line.
Take advantage of this stressful time in school to get out and experience this stunning time of year. The vibrant colors, the falling leaves, the crisp air, the brilliant rays of afternoon sun all bear witness to nature’s wisdom in knowing there is a time to grow and a time to rest. Bring your friends, your camera or your bike, and breath in deeply the autumn aromas. I guarantee you’ll find some much needed refreshment, perspective and peace.
Notes from Mommy:
Please use the buddy system and obey park rules (often posted on a sign at the entrance or on their website). In general, bring a jacket, stay on the designated paths and do not feed the wildlife.