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Avalon Park & Preserve

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Visitors to Avalon Nature Preserve will find a new boardwalk along the mill pond. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Enjoying the great outdoors has become even easier at Avalon Nature Preserve.

Visitors to the preserve in Head of the Harbor, adjoining Stony Brook, will soon see the completion of a much-anticipated boardwalk. While nature lovers in the last few weeks have been able to enjoy the new boardwalk at the preserve, the Monday after Thanksgiving will see work begin for the installation of additional railings. The work will close part of the boardwalk near the grist mill Monday through Thursday, but it will be open to visitors Friday through Sunday. Katharine Griffiths, director of Avalon Nature Preserve, said the boardwalk should be completed by the beginning of the new year.

The boardwalk and other projects are part of the park’s strategic master plan. Work on the boardwalk began in March, but once the pandemic hit, construction halted for 10 weeks, according to Griffiths. Once work was able to begin again, production was delayed sporadically due to wait times on materials, as many supply chains were slowed due to the pandemic. Originally, the hope was for the boardwalk to be completed in May.

Griffiths said the preserve has also installed new benches along the boardwalk, and the upper frog pond is being repaired due to a hole in the liner. Trail systems have been redone and many paths have been resurfaced during the last few months, and due to the renovations, the park’s labyrinth will now only have one access point. Restorative plantings have been placed around the labyrinth as well as other areas in the park, and Griffiths said they will be more plantings in the spring. Currently, the frog pond and labyrinth are closed due to
the renovations.

With many seeking outdoor activities during the pandemic, Griffiths said she has seen an increase in visitors.

“When the world feels a little crazy, people want to come here to feel better,” she said.

Head of the Harbor resident Harlan Fischer said he visits the park often with his dogs. While he hasn’t seen all of the improvements yet, he’s thrilled with what he has seen so far. He described the preserve as an asset to the area.

“It’s a really neat place, the nature preserve,” he said. “Kathy Griffiths sees everything gets done and is really good at this.”

The park abuts the T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park, which also will be undergoing a makeover of sorts. Maintained by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the duck pond park is in need of restoration after damage sustained during Tropical Storm Isaias in August when more than a dozen trees fell as the storm ripped through the park. There was also major damage to the park’s braille-engraved handrails, the borders maintaining the gardens and the walkways along the pond.

The entrance to Avalon Nature Preserve is located at the corner of Harbor Road and Route 25A in Stony Brook. Additional parking is available on Shep Jones Lane in Head of the Harbor.

Joe Glenn, Avalon Park & Preserve, Photo of the Week, deer

PICTURE PERFECT

Joe Glenn was lucky enough to spot this beautiful deer while visiting Avalon Park & Preserve in his hometown of Stony Brook. While the park remains open to visitors, the entrance at the Stony Brook Grist Mill is now temporarily closed for renovations.

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Artistic computer rendering of the proposed walkway and viewing area for Avalon Park & Preserve Shore Farm. Photo from Town of Smithtown Planning Board

By Donna Deedy

Avalon Park & Preserve is expanding its recreational trails to extend from its existing location on Harbor Road over to a 28-acre farm along Stony Brook Harbor. When completed, the public will have access to a boardwalk that overlooks a marine sanctuary on the Long Island Sound.

The new site, which is currently private and not yet open to the public, is located directly east of Harmony Vineyards in Head of the Harbor.

The Smithtown Town Board voted March 5 to approve the project, known as Shore Farm. Additional state and town approvals are needed before Head of the Harbor can issue its permit. No time frame has been reported for the project’s completion.

The park currently encompasses 76-acres and is comprised of five distinct natural habitats populated entirely with native fauna. People are excited about the expansion.

“Avalon is an excellent steward of their lands,” said Joyann Cirigliano, president of the Four Harbors Audubon Society. The area, she said, is officially designated Important Bird Area for migratory birds. “The park provides a full range of bird habitats: field, forest, edge, shore and fresh ponds.”

Cirigliano said that the park is particularly good at keeping out invasive species, which allows scrub brush to thrive. The scrub, she said, is an important habitat for the warbler and other edge birds, a population in decline.

Avalon Park & Preserve was created in 1997 by the Paul Simons Foundation to celebrate the life of Paul Simons. Paul is the son of Renaissance Technology founder James Simons. He and his wife Marilyn and family planned the park to honor Paul’s love of nature after his life was prematurely interrupted at age 34, when he was killed by a car in a biking accident near his home in the Three Village area. When complete Avalon Park & Preserve will encompass roughly 104 acres.

The park, though it is privately owned, is open to the public from dawn to dusk 365 days a year. In addition to its trails, the park offers yoga classes and stargazing programs at an on-site observatory, when conditions permit. The Audubon society hosts bird walks in the park. Information can be found on Avalon’s website.

“We have been involved with Avalon Park from the beginning and are most excited about the expansion and the joy and happiness it brings to so many people,” said Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in nearby Stony Brook.

GARDEN ORB

Jay Gao recently snapped this unique photo of a large gazing ball, an art installation called The Sphere, at Avalon Park & Preserve’s wildflower field in his hometown of Stony Brook using a Nikon D750. 

Fun fact: Bavaria’s King Ludwig II loved gazing balls so much he had them produced in many sizes to be hung in trees, floated in ponds and displayed atop ornate pedestals around his Herrenchiemsee palace. King Ludwig’s obsession led to the use of glass baubles as Christmas tree ornaments.

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This article was updated on Sept. 19.

'Sky Quest'

Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook will present a free screening of the documentary “Sky Quest” at its barn off Shep Jones Lane on Friday, Aug. 24 at 8 p.m. A family favorite, it tells the story of one woman’s quest for astronomy exploration and her childhood dreams of the stars.

Led by David Cohn and David Barnett, the film will be followed by Sky Lab and Sky Dome viewing of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, a waxing gibbous Moon and various deep sky objects around 9 p.m. (weather permitting). Free. For more information or directions, call 631-689-0619 or visit www.avalonparkandpreserve.org.

Alisa Greene of Farmingville in front of the memorial to Paul Simons. Photo by Elyse Sutton

By Katelyn Winter

 

Located on Harbor Road off Main Street in Stony Brook Village, there is a not-so-little slice of paradise providing visitors with a blissful escape. Behind the duck pond and across from the Grist Mill, you’ll find Avalon Park & Preserve with more than 80 acres of trails, wildflower meadows, ponds and even a winding labyrinth. The park is the perfect balance of a well-maintained public space and a place where nature blooms freely.

“Today, my daughter saw a vole for the first time,” said a mother who loves to take her daughters to this park. “A park ranger told us what it was, and pointed out a paper wasps’ nest, too. I really like that the rangers are always walking around —they’re so great.” Her children were eager to chime in, pointing out some of the parks’ features they find most exciting: “Animals and nature, the pond, the preserve and the labyrinth!”

Ranger Jeff and Ranger Danny walk the trails last summer. Photo by Katelyn Winter

Indeed, according to the park rangers themselves, they’ve really stepped up their presence thanks to the large influx of visitors in past years. When asked what they believe patrons like most about the park, and what they themselves enjoy, one ranger joked, “Us and us!”

On a more serious note, Ranger Danny said it’s all about “where we’re at. And the people you get to meet here are just great.” His co-worker Jeff agreed and said the surroundings are one of the best parts, and the people are really nice. There are a lot of kids that come around, too. Sometimes you almost feel like a tour guide, showing people around the park.”

The joy that both visitors and rangers alike feel at coming together in such a “peaceful, serene atmosphere” is exactly why the Paul Simons Foundation dedicated this park and preserve to his memory. Paul Simons was a young Long Island man whose bright and active life ended too soon, but his passion for nature and taking pleasure in outdoor activities is reflected in the foundation’s wish for the park.

According to Avalon’s web page, the foundation says, “It is hoped that present and future generations of visitors will find pleasure in these gardens, walks and woods.” Walking through the park today, you will find all sorts of people fulfilling that very hope. No matter what brings you to Avalon in the first place, the park seems to welcome you at its stately wooden gate, inviting you onto the boardwalk and into the well-loved park.

A map of the park

Part of the charm of Avalon Park is that you can enjoy art and activity alongside nature. Many people flock to the park to go on walks or jogs, to practice photography (though professionals must acquire a permit), and even to catch Pokémon. Just be conscientious and double check that the activity you want to enjoy is appropriate in that particular area of the park. For example, mountain biking is only allowed on the trails to the west of Shep Jones Lane, and fishing at the pond requires a permit.

If you’ve been to Avalon before, you know that it can be a great place to just walk about, but if you check out its website, www.avalonparkandpreserve.org, you’ll find an array of group activities and volunteering opportunities for yourself and your family to explore.

While Avalon has many youth programs, the two that take place on its grounds all year long and are open to any interested child are the Avalon Seedlings and the S.T.A.T.E. program. For children under the age of 13, the various Seedlings programs will open them up to the wonderful world of nature under the guidance of Sue Wahlert, a certified teacher who will make sure your child’s curiosity is satiated with new and exciting outdoor classes and activities.

The S.T.A.T.E. program, for teens ages 13 to 17, is an environment-focused volunteer program where they can learn about preserving resources, work on projects both short and long term and get down in the dirt with a purpose.

For those past the age of 17, Avalon welcomes you to one of its many other programs at the Barn, such as Asana Yoga, the Avalon Sky Lab for stellar and solar observing, Mindfulness Meditation and special events like movie night. In addition, the Four Harbors Audubon Society hosts regular bird walks through the park. Each individual program has its own website and contact information, but they are all located on the Field and Barn page of Avalon’s website.

If you didn’t know that Avalon Park was there, you might drive by the Stony Brook Duck Pond and never wonder what lay in the woods beyond its shores. But to unearth its existence is to find a way to incorporate adventure into your weekly routine. It’s a way to connect with nature, however you like to do that, and it’s discovering that so many other Long Islanders appreciate the beautiful place we call home.

And that is why Avalon Park & Preserve is a treasure among us.

Author Katelyn Winter is a rising junior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., majoring in English and creative writing. She is from Stony Brook and hopes to one day work in the publishing industry.

They say the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. The following local charitable organizations will gather at the Northport Public Library, 151 Laurel Ave., Northport for a Volunteer Fair from 4 to 6:30 p.m. :

Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook

Canine Companions

Drug & Alcohol Task Force of Northport-East Northport

Family Service League

Friends of the Farm

Good Shepherd Hospice

Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind

Heckscher Museum of Art

Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition

Island Harvest

Literacy Suffolk, Inc.

Long Island Cares

Long Island Volunteer Center

Meals on Wheels of Huntington Township, Corp.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving

National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Long Island Chapter

Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary & Audubon Center

Visiting Nurse Service & Hospice of Suffolk

For further information, call Nora at 631-261-6930.