The David A. Sarnoff Preserve in Riverhead, NY features a sprawling forest that played a significant role in the nation’s transatlantic communication history and now has trails for hiking, skiing and snowshoeing. Hikers passed through the preserve earlier this year when they hiked the 47-mile Long Island Pine Barrens Trail, which spans from Rocky Point to Hampton Bays, and they told themselves to come back one day soon to tackle it in its entirety.
Before exploring, people learned more about the history and habitats of David A. Sarnoff Preserve, which is part of the world’s only pine barren ecosystem on glacial deposits near a coastline, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The land was once owned by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which transmitted and received long-wave radio signals with a linear antenna that stretched for miles in the 1920s (it switched to rhomboid-shaped antennae fields that measured hundreds of feet across for short-wave radio signals in the 1930s).
“During the life of RCA operations, over 75 diamond-shaped antennae fields were created, remnants of which are still visible throughout the property,” said a sign, noting the advent of satellite communications led to the site ultimately being closed and donated to the state in the 1970s. Also, for those wondering, David A. Sarnoff was a businessman who led RCA from shortly after its inception until his retirement in 1970. “Sarnoff’s legacy on Long Island today is a 2,000-acre nature preserve that once was home to a necklace of 410-foot steel antennae and now, in an unlikely coda to technological life, gives shelter to hog-nosed snakes and red-tailed hawks,” said a 2008 article in Newsday.
The preserve has a few entrances, but people used the one on the west side of Quogue Riverhead Road between Cross River Drive and Old Riverhead Road. The DEC’s website said the land has a “9-mile long loop trail,” but a trail map display at the trailhead said there are two trails: a 2.5-mile blue loop and a five-mile red loop. They can be found by following yellow markers that “mark connecting routes from parking areas or other trail systems,” according to a sign.
Hikers began by taking the yellow trail northeast across Quogue Riverhead Road to the blue loop, which a sign said was 0.7 miles away, and they later retreated to the trailhead for the red loop, which a sign said was 1.25 miles away. Hikers should also note the preserve’s white blazes are for the aforementioned Long Island Pine Barrens Trail, which is known in its longer form as the 125-mile Paumanok Path that extends all the way to Montauk Point. Lastly, “all trails and roads on this property are closed during shotgun season, which commences the first Sunday in January and continues through the end of the month,” the DEC’s website said.
One of the hike’s highlights for them was educational signs scattered throughout the property, particularly the ones about the pine barrens. “Historically, records show pine barrens at one time covered nearly 25% of Long Island,” said one sign, adding that one of the most valuable aspects of the pine barrens is the protection it affords the 3-5 trillion gallons of drinking water located in the deep recharge aquifers on Long Island. “Hydrologists have estimated that the pine barrens recharge some 175 million gallons of purified water each day to those aquifers.” Other signs explained the importance of “prescribed fires” to help maintain the pine barrens. “While fires often destroy competing vegetation, pitch pines have a thick bark that protects them from low-intensity fires,” a sign said. “Within a week after a fire, growth occurs and buds sprout and grow between the bark plates of the pitch pine, forming new branches.”
Regarding wildlife, this preserve in Riverhead is considered to be a Bird Conservation Area, which is state lands designated to safeguard and enhance populations of birds. “In the spring and summer, many birds rely on these areas for breeding, food and shelter,” a sign said. “Some winter at Bird Conservation Areas, while others will use them for resting and feeding during migration.” The preserve’s birds range from brown thrashers to eastern towhees to common nighthawks, while animals can range from red foxes to box turtles to white-tailed deer. Speaking of deer, the parcel is also a popular spot for hunting. “Hunting is allowed anywhere on the property, except in areas that have been marked as restricted or excluded,” said the DEC’s website.
My music of choice was the debut album by the Polish progressive rock band Lunatic Soul, which was released in 2008. The band is the brainchild of Riverside frontman Mariusz Duda, who can do no wrong in my book. Lunatic Soul will be releasing a new album this fall called Through Shaded Woods, which I’ll likely enjoy due to the nature metaphors, and so I’ve been revisiting their older material in preparation for the new stuff. “I thought you wouldn’t come,” Duda sings on the disc’s second song. “I’ve been waiting for you, in the back of beyond.”
All in all, people say that David A. Sarnoff Preserve is a terrific hike for all lovers of pine trees. Hikers always feel an instant calm when they immerse themselves in pine trees, and there are few hikes where you’ll find more than this preserve.
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