Long Island Trail Lovers Coalition

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Riverhead

Bald Hill
 

 

No, not Bald Hill in Farmingville; there are no huge parking areas or concerts here.  This Bald Hill is nestled within the 985 acres of Suffolk Hills County Park, adjacent to the 2,144-acre Hampton Hills County Park, south of Riverhead just inside the western border of Southampton.  It sits in the middle of a vast expanse of preserved land that is nestled within an even larger tract of preserved land.  To the east lies the 2,749-acre David A. Sarnoff Preserve, Hubbard and Sears Bellows County Parks, to the west the 4-mile wide Manorville Hills Preserve.  The road shoulder parking area is located on CR 51 a half-mile west of Speonk Riverhead Road, 200 yards after the (white on green) “Hikers” sign.

The entrance to the trail is marked with three blue blazes on a white concrete stanchion.  Follow the blue blazes past a swinging metal gate onto a woods road.  After several hundred yards the trail splits.  Originally this was a one-way loop trail; the idea being to leave the spectacular view from atop Bald Hill for the end of the hike, like a dessert at the end of a meal.  From an aesthetic point of view there is some validity to this concept, but in an area with such a complex system of marked and unmarked trails it is important to know if you are on a marked trail even if you are walking in the “wrong” direction.  Recently, with permission from Suffolk County Parks, I blazed the trail in the opposite direction.  This way, hikers can decide themselves if they prefer to climb the steep hill in the beginning of the hike or near the end of this 2.5-mile loop.   In this article I’ll be guiding you to walk the loop in the new clockwise direction; if you find the climb too challenging you can choose instead to turn around and walk down the hill to your car.

Follow the woods road to where the loop splits off into two directions.  This is where the loop actually begins.  A Blue Loop sign with arrows would be helpful here.  Just past where the loop splits, the Paumanok Path (PP) crosses the woods road.  A sign that says “Bald Hill .3-mile” marks this intersection.  The hiker at this point has the option to veer left (to where the loop joins the PP) and climb straight up the hill, or to travel the loop, and end the hike with the panoramic view from the 285’ summit of Bald Hill.

Logs transverse the steeply inclined path running straight up the hill.  These checkdams slow down the erosion of the trail and help to level the walking surface.  It looks like a stairway for a giant.  To the right of the base of the stairway note an area covered with young pitch pine trees.  My friend Ken Spadafora planted these trees as seedlings several years ago in an attempt to restore some of the damage caused by illegal ATV use.  Every year a few more of them are ripped out by the aggressive ATV tires.  At the summit of the hill, there is a view to the east of a large undulating expanse of treetops broken by a huge radio tower.  Beyond that you can see the Peconic Bay, and with binoculars you can get a view of Moriches Bay and West Hampton Beach.  This was once an open hilltop with a fire tower.  Perhaps someday a modest observation platform will furnish an awesome, above the tree line, panoramic view for hikers.

From the airy oak and pine-covered summit, the trail winds its way down into wetlands with many small fern and moss-lined vernal ponds.  Highbush blueberry replaces the lowbush blueberry; carpets of cinnamon and New York fern slope into the ponds.  Spice fern, bayberry, sassafras, and red maple abound.  The senses are further delighted by spicebush, swallowtail, red admiral, and morning cloak. I heard a thrush, a warbler, and a red tailed hawk screaming far overhead, while the frogs splashed as they leapt to safety.

The blue loop follows the PP until at a “T” intersection where the loop heads right and the PP turns left.  Here the trail winds between many small ponds.  Be alert for a hard left turn.  After the turn you may wish to take a short trail to the left that leads to a large vernal pond (see picture).  Soon the trail takes you left, out onto the woods road once again.  Follow the woods road past the giant’s staircase and the Bald Hill sign, out to the road shoulder parking.

Not only is Bald Hill a lovely place to visit, but it is also a convenient place to access the trails that travel through the vast expanse of public open space surrounding it.  Enjoy!

 

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Long Island Trail Lovers Coalition

Ken Kindler
Open Space & Trails Advocate
Post Office Box 1466
Sayville NY 11782
ken@litlc.org

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