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David A. Sarnoff Preserve

The Dwarf Pine Trail
 

 

The Pine Barrens, also known as "pine plains", and "pitch pine-scrub oak barrens", occur throughout the northeastern U.S. from New Jersey to Maine as well as the Midwest and Canada. Pine Barrens plant communities occur on dry, acidic, infertile soils, in areas of sandy glacial deposits.  The most common trees in the Pine Barrens located in the center of Long Island, are the pitch pine, scrub oak, and larger oaks.  Plants of the heath family such as wintergreen, sheep laurel, huckleberry, trailing arbutus, Indian pipe, blueberry and bearberry are common in the understory. These species have adaptations that permit them to survive or regenerate well after fire. This unique environment supports a number of rare species, including the tiger salamander, barrens buckmoth, and the Sand-plain Gerardia.  This region sits atop vast unpolluted aquifers, Long Island’s soul source of drinking water, making this tract of land an essential resource.

The Pine Barrens dries out quickly after a rain. The soil is sandy, therefore porous, and well drained, and organic matter breaks down slowly in the acidic soil making the soil nutrient poor.  Dry pine needles and oak leaves along with other organic matter accumulate on the ground, and ignite easily. Many of the plant species in the Pine Barrens actually require fire in order to reproduce. Pitch Pine is capable of sprouting needles from buds underneath its thick fire protective bark after exposure to fire. Fire burns the pines' fallen needles and debris, releasing nutrients that prepare a seedbed for the regeneration of the forest.  Volatile resins in the needles and leaves may generate intense fires during the growing season.  Foliage, live and dead twigs and branches carry the fire. Fires may be of high intensity and spread rapidly, killing off many of the non-fire-adapted invasive woody species. In the absence of fire, barrens will proceed through successional stages from savanna to closed-canopy forest.

The Dwarf Pine Plains of Westhampton is characterized by scrub oak and dwarf pitch pine, without the canopy cover of the larger oaks.  Most of the dwarf pitch pines have serotinous cones that are covered with a resin that must be melted by fire to open and release their seeds. In this way they are more fire-adapted than their taller cousins whose cones open when mature. Historically, fire has been more frequent in the Dwarf Pine Plains than other parts of the Long Island Pine Barrens. High accumulation of standing dead shrubs contribute to intense fires. The intertwined scrub oak, dwarf pines, huckleberry, blueberry and bearberry form a dense continuous cover of fuel. Open barrens are now rare and imperiled globally. Suppression of wildfires has allowed woody vegetation to take over in most one-time barrens, and the continued accumulation of fuel has led to a greater risk of uncontrollable wildfires like the Sunrise fires of 1995.

The property just south of Sunrise Highway on CR 31, adjacent to the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) was on a the acquisition wish-list for a lot of agencies for many years. It was the largest remaining privately owned parcel in the Core Preservation Area of the Central Long Island Pine Barrens.  It is a vital groundwater recharge area and supports a globally rare dwarf pine forest ecology in the heart of the Pine Barrens.

The acquisition of this preserve was the result of a cooperative agreement between three levels of government: New York State, Suffolk County, and the Town of Southampton. WJF Realty was paid $11.2 million in exchange for the 308 acres and for the service of settling old land use litigation with the Town of Southampton. The real estate transaction was negotiated and coordinated by The Nature Conservancy.  The Nature Conservancy bought the land and then sold the property to County and State which were each responsible for half the purchase price.

In exchange for Pine Barrens Credits, the Pine Barrens Commission put a conservation easement on100 acres of the total parcel; this will protect the land from being developed. The Pine Barrens Credit has a specific monetary value, so Pine Barrens Credits can be exchanged for money.  The land is still owned by the developer. The landowner will keep 100 development rights that can be either sold on the open market, or used by the holder of these rights to add density to development in other less environmentally sensitive locations.

Dominated by diminutive pine and oak trees forming a canopy little more than fifteen feet high, this “dwarf pine plains” area is a unique community, made up mostly of dwarf pitch pines and scrub oak. The soil is sandy, and nutrient-poor.  The shrub layer is dominated by huckleberry, bearberry, blueberry, and wintergreen, along with some native grasses. This community exists in only two other places in the world: the Shawangunk Ridge in New York's Hudson Valley, and the New Jersey Pinelands.

Long Island's dwarf pine forests harbor several rare plant and animal species including the largest population of coastal barrens buck moth in New York. A small breeding population of Northern harriers has been observed in the area.  This is important because breeding populations of this ground-nesting raptor are declining elsewhere in the region. The property is also a favored nesting site for pine and prairie warbler, ovenbird, and several declining migrant songbirds, such as whip-poor-will.

Creation of a Dwarf Pine Trail on this property adjacent to the SCWA was recommended as a stewardship project during a May 2005 Commission meeting. The trailhead project is the product of interagency cooperation a common type of primate behavior, easily observed at Commission meetings.  Committee members include representatives from the three landowners (SCWA, NYSDEC, and SC Parks), the Town of Southampton, the Pine Barrens Commission and The Nature Conservancy.  The trailhead is located on SCWA property.  The SCWA has furnished dedicated parking spaces for the trail, and has engineered the trailhead for easy accessibility.  The trailhead will soon feature three interpretive kiosks. This is the first public access project completed by public agencies on Pine Barrens credit program conservation easement land.  At the dedication of the trail on June 1, 2007 Peter A. Scully Chairman of the Commission, and Regional Director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation indicated that land management in the Pine Barrens is moving into a stewardship phase.

The .06-mile trail is an excellent example of Dwarf Pine Plains; it contains the species of flora and fauna one associates with this ecosystem.  The day of the trail dedication, the bright yellow flowers of Pine Barrens Golden Heather adorned the new trail.

If you wish to walk this .06-mile trail, the directions are as follows: take Sunrise Highway to exit 63 south; the exit ramp enters Old Riverhead Road (County Road 31).  Proceed south – you will see a large building on the left hand side of the road.  Enter left turning lane and turn left into the Suffolk County Water Authority driveway.  Parking is available on site.

 

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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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