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Caleb Smith State Park

Sofia Pace of Smithtown shows off her catch of the day — an 18 inch largemouth bass caught at Willow Pond last summer. Photo from Paul Pace

By Rita J. Egan

Once the warm weather arrives, it can be a challenge when it comes to keeping children busy. Teaching them how to fish is a fun way to get them outside and have them connect with nature. Fortunately, for Long Islanders, in addition to water surrounding the region, the area is home to the Nissequogue River as well as other fish-filled waterways.

During fishing season, budding anglers can bring their poles and barbless hooks to the north side of Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown and fish in the park’s Willow Pond, which empties into the Nissequogue.

The preserve’s environmental educator, Linda Kasten, said the park has offered children’s fishing since it opened in 1974, and little anglers can take home a fish depending on its size. A sign by Willow Pond lists the requirements that fish must be nine inches or larger, except in the case of a trout or largemouth bass, which must be more than 12 inches. Anglers who catch smaller fish are required to release them back into the river. 

Kasten said families who come to the preserve for a day of fishing are asked to sign in at the Caleb Smith House on the property and then return at the end of the session to let the staff know what fish they caught and how big.

From left, Sofia and Angelina Pace of Smithtown with a bluegill they caught last summer at Willow Pond. Photo from Paul Pace
From left, Sofia and Angelina Pace of Smithtown with a bluegill they caught last summer at Willow Pond. Photo from Paul Pace

When a child catches a fish, the educator said, “They think it’s the coolest thing.”

The park employee said she has seen children catch pumpkinseed fish, bluegills, largemouth bass and occasionally rainbow trout. Most of the fish that the junior anglers catch at the park are the panfish variety, which are small enough to cook in a pan yet still large enough to meet the requirements of fishers not having to release them back in the water.

Depending on the age of the child, fishing could keep them busy for a couple of hours or more, according to Kasten. “When they come with friends, they’ll sit out there for hours,” she said.

Last year the educator said there was a group of five young teenagers who would come to the park practically every weekend, and they always caught fish. “They were so excited just to be with each other, let alone fishing and catching stuff,” Kasten said.

Smithtown resident Paul Pace has been bringing his two daughters, Sofia (7) and Angelina (3), to fish at the park for the last two years. It was during a visit to the preserve, which features walking trails and a nature museum in the Caleb Smith House, that the father, a fisherman himself, saw the sign and thought it would be a great idea to teach his girls the sport.

Pace said his daughters will spend a good two hours fishing. He said he loves that, “it gets them away from computer-driven things. It’s real life. They breathe in the fresh air, see some animals, plants, birds, and do some exploring.”

However, he said they don’t find a lot of time to explore the preserve because they are very lucky fishing there. “We catch a lot of fish so there’s always some action,” the father said.

Pace said one day last year, his oldest caught an 18-inch bass, and they were able to keep it and cook it. He said his daughters are developing a love for the sport and can’t wait until they are older and can fish from a boat. “They get really super excited. They love it; they’re reeling them in. Especially that big one — they both freaked out!” he said.

Besides fishing being a fun family activity, Pace also believes that it can teach children some important life lessons. “To cast the line takes a lot of practice and patience and determination. Sofia, she was casting last year … really good. There’s always something to accomplish,” Pace said. 

’[Fishing] gets [kids] away from computer-driven things. They breathe in the fresh air, see some animals, plants, birds and do some exploring.’
—Paul Pace

Each year before the season begins, the preserve offers fishing clinics so young anglers can learn some useful tips. The Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve also hosts an annual Junior Angler Catch and Release Tournament at the park. For $15 per participant, children 12 years and under can compete for prizes for the most fish caught and largest fish reeled in. This year the event takes place this Saturday, June 11, when children  ages 5 to 8 will compete in the morning and kids ages 9 to 12 will cast their poles in the afternoon.

Fishing season at Caleb Smith State Preserve Park, 581 W. Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown, runs from April 1 to Oct. 31. There is no charge for fishing; however, a parking fee of $8 is in effect, except for Empire Passport holders. Children do not need a fishing license but are required to bring their own equipment. Fishing at Willow Pond is for anglers 15 years and younger, and children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. For more information about fishing at the preserve or the Junior Angler Catch and Release Tournament, call 631-265-1054 or visit www.nysparks.com/parks/124/.com.

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Summer activities for the family

West Meadow Beach is not the only option for summer fun.

This blog was originally posted in July 2013. It has been updated with current information.

You may still be recovering from those last couple of weeks of careening from one end-of-school-year event to the next, but once the novelty of not having to make it to the bus in the morning or churn out homework in the afternoon wears off, boredom will set in hard and fast.

When younger kids are not in camp, entertainment often falls on mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, or whoever else is looking after the little ones.

Fortunately, our area is not wanting for things to do, and we all have our fail-safe go-to’s — the Emma S. Clark or the Middle Country Libraries for their smorgasbord of classes and activities, the fields or labyrinth at Avalon, West Meadow Beach, or the sprinklers in Port Jeff.

For those days when you want to venture out a little farther, here are just a few more ideas for getting out and about. And let me just preface my recommendations with one bit of advice: wear insect repellant in addition to the sunscreen!  The bugs are out in full force!

Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown

The nice thing about Sweetbriar is you can just get up and go without any real planning or effort, and you can easily spend a couple of hours between picnicking, walking the exhibits and enjoying the outdoor setting. Because much of it is outside, it may not be ideal for a sweltering day.

The animal rehabilitation center is home to horned owls and other birds of prey, and if you hit the right time, you might just see Iggy, the iguana who usually resides inside, walking the grounds sunning herself. The butterfly house is open for business, and there are walking trails, an English garden and an outdoor play spot, complete with water play area, chalk boards and even a log see-saw.

The indoor exhibit features reptiles, amphibians, honey bees and other small animals, as well as skeletons and other educational displays. The rainforest room upstairs is a child’s favorite because of the “bridge” that extends over a faux river. Just watch out for the ginormous tarantulas hanging out, quite literally, in their tanks at the back of the room and make sure to have some pennies to toss into the “river.”

For hours, directions and information about camps and special programs, visit the website, http://sweetbriarnc.org. Sweetbriar is located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown, NY11787, 631-979-6344.

Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center in Holtsville

Another great place for animal viewing is the Holtsville Ecology Center. The small zoo is home to a variety of animals including a bald eagle, emu, horses and a giant pig. All inhabitants are previously injured animals that cannot be re-released.

Though entrance is free,  you may want to have change on hand to buy feed for the goats from the dispensers. Afterwards, you can enjoy a picnic lunch in their picnic area,  run around the playground or ride bikes, scooters or roller blade on the trails.   Oh, and there is an ice cream truck parked outside the entrance, so be prepared to indulge!

For more information visit brookaven.org The Town of Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center Nature Preserve is located at 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville, NY. 631-758-9664.

New York State Parks

Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown and Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale both offer biweekly Tiny Tots Nature Discovery classes for children 3 to 5 years old. All you have to do is call ahead to reserve a space. The hour-long class is only $4 per adult and $3 for children!

There are also programs for older children, families and adults. This Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. there will be a bat program at Caleb Smith Park. You can learn about bats in the educational center before walking through the woods scouting for the creatures. While this particular event is recommended for those 5 and up, you can get information about other programs at Caleb Smith by calling 631-265-1054. (They are in the process of updating their website).

For more information on programs at Connetquot River State Park, go to nysparks.com.

Sailors Haven and the Sunken Forest on Fire Island

If you’re looking for a bigger adventure, take the Sayville Ferry across to Sailors Haven on Fire Island, where you’ll find the Sunken Forest and a beach with fine sand and huge seashells for collectors. A boardwalk connects the visitors’ center, the showers, beach and forest. You can either wander around on your own, or take a free ranger-led tour.

Bring your own snacks, since the snack shop is closed while the marina is under construction. Both should reopen at the end of July. The good news, though, is there are lifeguards on duty and the bathrooms and showers are open.

As you can expect, attire for the woods and attire for the beach are not exactly compatible, especially because the forest, situated on freshwater bogs, is extraordinarily buggy — we’re talking total feeding frenzy. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are not advisable, or you will be running to avoid being devoured. Bug spray is ESSENTIAL.

The Visitors Center is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit the website nps.gov or call (631) 597-6183.

 

 

 

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Morning winners in last year’s tournament: Owen Murnane, third prize; Rosmary Deutsch, first prize; Stevie Rosenfeld, second prize. Photo from Carole Paquette

Calling all little anglers.

Angelo Lupo with his sixth fish, which garnered him first prize for the most fish caught in the afternoon session of last year’s tournament. Photo from Carole Paquette
Angelo Lupo with his sixth fish, which garnered him first prize for the most fish caught in the afternoon session of last year’s tournament. Photo from Carole Paquette

The 13th annual Junior Angler Fishing Tournament, sponsored by the Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve, will take place on Saturday, June 6, at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown.

There will be two groups fishing: ages 5-8 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; and ages 9-12, from 1 p.m.  to 3 p.m. Trophies will also be awarded in the three categories at each fishing session.

The fee will be $10 per entry for anglers of Friends members, $15 for anglers of non-members. The entry fee includes bait, junior angler tee shirts, refreshments, goody bags and tackle.

Fishing rods are available if required. Those interested must register by Saturday, May 30.

Call (631) 265-1054 or (631) 979-3371 for details.

For more information about Friends activities, and events, visit friendsofcalebsmith.org

Biologist, outdoorsman Eric Powers plans special event at Smithtown spot as spring weather arrives

Ranger Eric Powers with an eastern screech owl. Photo from Carole Paquette

The warmer weather has Smithtown residents spreading their wings and one upcoming event at a town park offers a literal translation of the phrase.

Biologist and outdoorsman Eric Powers will be hitting the North Shore next week to conduct a birding walk at Smithtown’s own Caleb Smith State Park Preserve on Jericho Turnpike.

Having extensively explored the historic Caleb Smith park, Ranger Eric — as most North Shore students know him — will lead attendees to some of his favorite locations to see birds and other wildlife, as well as highlighting plants and freshwater springs, the lifeblood of the park.

A former park ranger in Colorado, Powers led nature hikes until he joined the Peace Corps as an environmental education officer for two years. In 2005, he started his own company, Your Connection To Nature, dedicated to meaningful environmental education programs and ecotourism. These programs connect classrooms to field studies and give people a deeper understanding of their local environment.

Powers’ latest endeavors include a monthly cable TV series about Long Island nature, the Marine Explorers Summer Camp in Babylon and the original bobwhite quail vs. ticks project.

For more information, visit his website at www.yc2n.com.

The event, slated for Saturday, May 9, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., includes a preregistration requirement as space is limited. For more information, residents can call 366-3288 or 265-1054. The free event is part of the 2015 lecture series sponsored by the Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve, and will involve walking about two miles.

Walkers are urged to wear sensible footwear and bring binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens, if they are able.

For more information about the activities and events of the park’s friends, visit www.friendsofcalebsmith.org.

Librarian slated to lead lecture including 17th-century tales of popular Caleb Smith State Park Preserve

Cathy Ball is a supervising librarian of the Long Island Room at the Smithtown Library. Photo from Carol Paquette

George Washington in the park? What is the history of the road? Caleb, a thorn in whose side? Did he run the gauntlet? Why was he robbed?

These are some of the anecdotes that will be part of an inside look at the history of Smithtown’s Caleb Smith State Park Preserve on Sunday, April 19, at 1 p.m. at the preserve on Jericho Turnpike. The free event will be presented by Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve. Preregistration is required by calling 265-1054.

Cathy Ball, supervising librarian of the Long Island Room at the Smithtown Library, will speak and illustrate, with artifacts, historical stories about the 543-acre preserve and the families of Caleb Smith.

The original house, which is located on the preserve, was built in 1753 by Smith — a great-grandson of Smithtown’s founder Richard Smythe — and his father Daniel Smith II.

“I have been thinking a lot about Caleb, his children and grandchildren, and the history of the park and the roads within the park and their purpose in earlier times,” said Ball, noting that she will discuss the effects of the Revolutionary War on Smith and his family. She will also delve into their lives, the mills, and the property’s subsequent history as the Wyandanch Club before becoming a state park and preserve.

Since 2004, Ball, a resident of Setauket, has worked in the Long Island Room, which contains 8,000 books and 200 boxes of documents, including original manuscripts from the 17th century. Working alongside local historian and archivist Caren Zatyk, Ball conducts programs and exhibits, supplemented with the archives.

Currently both of them are working with the New York State Department of Transportation on the development of pocket parks for cyclists along Route 347 in Smithtown, providing information and historical photo displays for each park that will depict the history of that particular area.

The Long Island Room brings in a “continual stream of researchers and authors from long distance researching family and local history,” Ball said.

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