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Harvest Times

Dog Parks

By John L. Turner

Spending time amidst the splendor of nature with family and friends at various local parks is a great way to spend a day, especially with the cooler weather of autumn. And because many parks situated throughout Long Island allow dogs, including several specifically established for dogs, you don’t have to leave your four-legged friend at home, eyeing you longingly through the screen door as you head to your car. Grab the leash and bring Fido along — you’ll both benefit from the exercise. 

You already know the benefits to your health from regular exercise — weight control, cardiovascular fitness, strengthening bones and muscles, and boosting your immune system. Well, the same holds true for your dog — regular walking provides a suite of physical health benefits, an important fact considering that 50% of the dogs in America are overweight, according to a national veterinary group.  Walking also provides emotional and mental health benefits to your dog — in fact, there is nothing your dog would rather do (except eating) than join their best buddy on a walk!      

Dog friendly parks can be conveniently broken into two categories depending on your and your pet’s desired experience and interest: Leashed dog parks — those allowing dogs but require them to be leashed, typically larger parks open for other uses such as Blydenburgh County Park, and fenced-in dog parks — parks created exclusively for dogs where they can run and play off-leash and unrestrained within a fenced-in area with other dogs. 

Given all these parks where dogs can roam and romp, there are plenty of places to explore and enjoy the outdoors with your fur-covered friend. Enjoy the time with your pet but don’t forget the leash, poop bags, water and, of course, some dog cookies.  

Leashed Dog Parks

Leashed dogs are permitted in a number of state, county, and town-owned parks as well as several privately-owned parks. Here are some really special ones you and your dog are sure to enjoy.

Arthur Kunz County Park

Landing Avenue, Smithtown 


This is an undeveloped county park on the west side of the Nissequogue River, named in honor of a past Suffolk County Planning Director. The park offers numerous sweeping views of the Nissequogue River. Heavily forested with a few small streams that run through it to the river, it contains an abundance of tulip trees, a straight and tall tree that can grow to majestic proportions. Access is from a small parking area along the road where Landing Avenue performs a sharp turn to the right approximately 1,500 feet from its intersection with St. Johnland Road. Instead of making the sharp right, stay straight and you’ll see a small wooden sign on your left identifying the park. 

Avalon Park & Preserve

200 Harbor Road, Stony Brook


Privately run, this well-attended preserve straddles Shep Jones Lane. Popular features include a labyrinth and the Cartas Al Cielo (Letters to God) stainless ball sculpture by artist Alicia Framis. Ecologically it is quite diverse with numerous fields, well developed forests of beech, hickory, oak, and black birch, and frontage on Stony Brook Mill Pond, where you can see the nests of Double-crested Cormorants adorning the trees. A series of hiking trails meander through both the eastern and western sections of the preserve, rising and falling as the paths traverse the rolling terrain. Parking is either along Harbor Road near the Stony Brook Grist Mill or in the parking lots along Shep Jones Lane. Please note the park is closed on Mondays.

Blydenburgh County Park

Veterans Memorial Highway, Smithtown


This large county park surrounds and includes Stump Pond (also known as Blydenburgh Lake). If you are adventurous, you can walk around the pond and in so doing will pass through some beautiful extensive forests and low lying swampy areas. The Blydenburgh National Historic District, encompassing eight structures, including a grist mill, is situated in the northwestern section of the park. It also has a fenced-in dog park. The northern entrance can be accessed from New Mill Road which intersects with Brooksite Drive. The southern access point is through an entrance road from State Route 347 across from the Hauppauge County Center. 

Chandler Estate Park

233 N. Country Road, Mt. Sinai 


This 40-acre Suffolk County-owned preserve is situated on the southern edge of Mount Sinai Harbor. The park is laced with trails but given its small size you can’t really get lost. Pass through a metal gate and within a short distance will have the choice to at a fork in the trail. If you stay straight it will take you more quickly to the edge of the harbor. The trail to the right leads east and a smaller trail to your left will take you north toward the harbor too. This park is a small gem that is definitely worth getting to know better. Access to the park is gained through the parking lot of the Mt. Sinai Congregational Church situated near the corner of the cemetery.

Cordwood Landing County Park

Landing Avenue, Miller Place


This 70-acre nature preserve located in Miller Place was formerly Camp Barstow, a Girl Scout camp. It was named to reflect the cordwood industry which was an important economic driver in the mid-to-late nineteenth century in Suffolk County. The main path leads to the more than 1000 feet of beach front. If you want a more circuitous walk through this heavily forested preserve dominated by oaks, hickories, birch and beech, there is a trail that meanders through the preserve’s eastern portion before following the top of the bluff that fronts on Long Island Sound. This section of the trail provides breathtaking views of the Sound and shoreline. 

Forsythe Meadow County Park

52 Hollow Road, Stony Brook


A 34-acre preserve that sits above the Stony Brook Village Center, the County’s Forsythe Meadow/Nora Bredes Preserve has a 1.2 mile circular trail that loops through the meadows and woodlands of the preserve. The diversity of habitats makes it a good place to see birds, butterflies, deer and other wildlife. A few breaks in the forest canopy provide views of Stony Brook Harbor in the winter. Access is via a stone lined road, next to the county park sign, off of Hollow Road.  

Frank Melville Memorial Park

1 Old Field Road, Setauket 


The “Central Park” of Setauket, the privately-run 24-acre park was dedicated in 1937 to the memory of Frank Melville Jr., father of local philanthropist Ward Melville. This community treasure consists of forested land adjacent to the southern end of Conscience Bay. The scenic pond, bracketed by two stone bridges, is the central attraction of the park and countless visitors like to walk around the pond on the paved trail that circles it. A simulated grist mill is adjacent to the northern bridge and the vantage point from this bridge offers a panoramic view of the Bay. This park is easily reached either by accessing Bates Road off of Main Street near the village green in Setauket, or park in one of the designated parking spaces on Main Street adjacent to the Setauket Post Office. 

Heckscher Park

2 Prime Ave., Huntington


Heckscher Park, the Town of Huntington’s “Central Park”, of which it appears to represent a small-scale version, is pretty! A small lake, situated in the northwestern portion of the park, provides habitat for turtles and a variety of waterbirds including ducks, swans and geese. A number of paved trails, including one around the lake, are laid out through the park. When tired, you and your pet can rest in the large grassy sections and enjoy manicured gardens. Parking is provided along the south side of Madison Avenue.

Makamah Nature Preserve

Fort Salonga Road, Fort Salonga

631- 854-4949

Another undeveloped, yet beautiful, preserve laced with hiking trails, Makamah Nature Preserve is part of the Crab Meadow watershed and, adjoining the Town of Huntington-owned Crab Meadow Golf Course and marshland area, forms more than 500 acres of contiguous preserved open space. The property, which was acquired by Suffolk County in 1973, is heavily forested, dominated by oaks, several hickory species, black birch,with spicebush growing in the understory. IThe main loop trail that runs around the edge of the preserve (there are quite a few interior trails that can complicate your walk so it’s best to bring a trail map) provides great views of the stream valley to the east which flows into the marsh and at one vantage point offers a panoramic view of the Crab Meadow Marsh. Access to the property is from a parking lot that fronts on State Route 25A, a little bit west of its intersection with Makamah Road. 

Port Jefferson Public Beach

East Broadway, Port Jefferson


Located on the west side of Port Jefferson Harbor, this well-known dog park and beach is a great place for your pet to get some exercise while providing pretty views of the harbor for the enjoyment of the dog’s two-legged companions. It is a bit tricky to get to. It is located north of the main section of Harborfront Park, so drive in the main access road to the park, driving past the Village Center and Bayles Boat Shop and, finally, past the numerous parking spaces on your right. When you reach a fork bear left and go straight and you’ll see the elongated parking lot for the beach. 

Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail 


This 5.1 mile long Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway trail provides a scenic path connecting these two communities together. Along the way, on this slightly undulating paved path, you’ll pass by occasional open areas and fields, as well as dense forests dominated by various oak, hickory and other trees. The trail crosses over numerous roads including Gnarled Hollow Road, Old Town Road, and Sheep Pasture Road, and along your journey you can contemplate how and why they got their names. Access to the Greenway is available from both its ends. The western terminus is accessed through the parking lot situated on Limroy Lane, off of Route 25A while the eastern end at Clifton Place is gained through the elongated parking lot on the west side of State Route 112 across from its intersection with Hallock Lane. 

Thomas Muratore Park at Farmingville Hills

501 Horseblock Road, Farmingville


This heavily wooded undeveloped 105-acre park was purchased by the county in the 1980s as a part of the Open Space Preservation Act. The 105-acre park officially opened to the public in May of 2010 and was renamed in memory of Leg. Tom Muratore in April of this year. Approximately 1.2 miles of hiking trails, consisting of two loops, weave among the forest that is rolling in nature, containing elevations that reach as high as 270 feet above sea level. Two historic structures managed by the Farmingville Historical Society — the 1850 Greek Revival School House and the Terry House, built in 1823 — are found in the southeastern section of the park. There is parking for about a dozen vehicles. 

West Hills County Park 

181 Sweet Hollow Road, Huntington 


This is a large park situated on the highest section of the Ronkonkoma Moraine, the row of hills formed by the third of four glaciers that advanced during the Ice Age which shaped and created Long Island. In fact, Jayne’s Hill, the highest point on Long Island, topping out at the nose-bleed elevation of 401 feet (actually the height has never been precisely determined with heights as low as 383 feet and high as 414 feet being stated), is situated in the northeastern corner of the park. On top there is a boulder containing a plaque in which Walt Whitman’s well-known piece “Paumanok” is inscribed, a poem which in such a distilled way captures the essence of Long Island. The Walt Whitman Trail, a loop which connects Whitman’s birthplace with the county park and Jayne’s Hill, is about 3.6 miles long — a nice hike for a morning or afternoon. Jayne’s Hill is reached off of Reservoir Road while additional access is off of Sweet Hollow Road and High Hold Drive. 

Fenced-in Parks

There are several smaller, fenced-in parks where your dog can romp off-leash, socializing and playing with other dogs. The Town of Brookhaven, for example, has established several dog parks, the two closest fenced-in parks being the Middle Island Dog Park, 1075 Middle Country Road, Middle Island and the Selden Dog Park, 100 Boyle Road, Selden. A Pooch Pass  from the town is required. Likewise, the Town of Smithtown has a fenced-in dog park at Charles P. Toner Park, 148 Smithtown Blvd. in Nesconset. 

Suffolk County maintains several established, fenced-in dog parks too, situated within larger county parks located in the northern half of Suffolk County. Two popular ones are the dog parks at West Hills and Blydenburgh County Parks

A resident of Setauket, author John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island,” president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours and pens a monthly column for TBR News Media titled Nature Matters.

This article originally appeared in TBR News Media’s 2022 Harvest Times supplement.



Deer at Avalon Park. Photo by Mimi Hodges

By John Turner

A White-tailed deer nibbling peacefully on lush green leaves along the roadside, its namesake tail twitching in the twilight of early evening. A screeching, Red-tailed hawk drawing circles around the sun, the bird of prey’s discordant call still being used today to emphasize the most dramatic moments in western movies. Its distant cousin, an Osprey, drops into a rapid stoop, hitting the water with knife-tip sharp talons flared like the legs of a claw lamp, a strategy to enhance capture of slippery fish.

The nightly summer show of incandescence put on by the otherworldly display of fireflies. The seasonal parade of Monarch butterflies feeding on seaside goldenrod at coastal beaches, filling up their migratory fuel tanks on their autumn journey to Mexico. A Grey squirrel sitting on a tree branch in a light rain, feeding on a walnut, adorned with a walnut-stained beard and moustache, its fluffy tail arched over its back and head serving as a most effective umbrella. The dancing flights of Ruby-throated hummingbirds nectaring in wildflower beds, their improbable tubular tongues gaining sustenance through the nectar the plants calculatingly provide.

If you’re like most residents who spends some time outdoors you’ve probably had one or more of the above experiences, or something similar, connecting you to the diversity of wild animals which grace Long Island’s parks, ponds and natural areas. Maybe these experiences have occurred through happenstance or due to your desire to seek them out. Either way, wild animals, what we call “wildlife,” fully living their independent, yet intertwined lives, enrich both ours and theirs and naturally leads to the question: what actions can I take to help wildlife?

Well, the short answer is there are dozens of direct and indirect things each of us can do to protect wildlife both here and further afield. A direct action? Making sure you recycle broken fishing line and not leaving it in or along the edge of a pond where aquatic wildlife, like ducks and swans, and geese, can get entangled and die.

Driving more slowly and looking for box turtles and other animals that might be in harm’s way on the road way. Minimizing bright outdoor lighting which adversely affects nocturnal animals (motion detecting lights are a good compromise between security and the needs of wildlife for darkness).

Indirect actions? Reducing energy and water use, composting the compostable portion of your garbage, recycling the recyclable part, and most importantly, generating less garbage to begin with.

Following are but a few actions for you to consider and there are many, many more, limited only by your imagination. These measures can be placed in two basic categories: things you should do and thing you shouldn’t.

Taking first those activities that you shouldn’t — paramount among them is to avoid the use of pesticides. Despite greenwashing by the chemical industry, it’s important to remember that pesticides are chemical poisons intentionally designed to kill things and they often kill many other insects and other animals besides the ones they’re designed to.

Photo by Tom Caruso

Rampant pesticide use (we use about one billion pounds of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides annually; yes, billion, that’s not a typo) is the leading cause for the decline of scores of important pollinating insects including native bees, flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, and the European honey bee.

Many non-target mammals, birds, fish, and numerous reptiles and amphibians are harmed or killed by pesticide use too (many box turtles exposed to pesticides appear to develop painful abscesses in their middle ear cavity which can be life threatening). There is much on-line information about less destructive ways to control undesirable insects, weeds, etc., than through using poisons.

Another “don’t” action involves your cat. Cats, both feral and free roaming pets, are the leading cause for small mammals and bird deaths and their decline. Billions of mice, voles, and hundreds of millions of songbirds, involving dozen of species, are killed by cats annually in the United States. And collar bells on cats make no difference as birds don’t associate bells with danger.

Most people don’t open the front door to let their dog out, freeing it to roam the neighborhood, but don’t think twice about letting the cat out where it can and does wreak ecological havoc. While it is difficult to make a pet cat used to going outside exclusively into an indoor cat, there are transitioning strategies you can employ available on-line for review. And make your next pet cat an indoor one!!

Now for the do’s — do make your yard friendly for wildlife! Make it a cafeteria and shelter! This effort should start by planting or expanding the use of native plant species which are life sustaining for hundreds of insects which form the base of local food chains.

Doug Tallamy, in his wonderful new book ,“Nature’s Best Hope,” states that a White oak tree can sustain several hundred different species of insects — insects, both in adult and larval forms (caterpillars) that birds like Black-capped chickadees and Downy woodpeckers need to survive.

Another great native plant — a shrub — is Common elderberry (yes, THAT plant whose berries are made into wine). The small white flowers provide nectar to a variety of small pollinating insects and the red-purple berries, often produced in copious amounts, are eaten by a number of songbirds. Compare these species to non-native exotic plants, say a Winged Euonymus or Arborvitae, typically planted by homeowners and landscapers. These plants are ecological deserts never becoming part of the local food chain since no or few insects feed upon, insects which sustain so many other living things.

Add sterile lawns and we’ve created landscapes around our home that provides little in the way that wildlife needs. In contrast, planting native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees is a highly effective strategy for hosts of animals that feed on the bounty that native plants provide in the form of nectar, seeds, fruits, and nuts.

And leaving leaf cover in your flower beds and other out of the way places during the autumn cleanup provides shelter from the winter’s cold for a variety of overwintering caterpillars and other insects.

Placing decals on your home’s windows is another measure you can take around your house to meaningfully help birds. Nearly a billion birds in North America are estimated to die annually from flying into building windows they don’t see, due to either of the two deadly characteristics windows possess — transparency and reflectivity. Hummingbirds are especially common collision victims. There are several type of attractive decal products available for purchase on-line which, when installed, help enable birds to see windows for what they are.

By now you may have had the thought — John, you’ve discussed these other ways to help wildlife but what about perhaps the most obvious way: by feeding birds. In truth, that’s a common and pervasive misperception as feeding birds does nothing to help them survive since no wild bird species depends upon backyard bird feeding stations to continue to exist.

Wild birds are quite adept at finding enough wild food for themselves even during the winter and for their young during the breeding season to survive. They don’t need or depend on the seed, suet, sugar water, jelly, and oranges many homeowners put out to entice them. And the species that frequent backyard feeders — Black-capped chickadees, Tufted titmice, Common grackles, Carolina wrens, and a variety of woodpeckers — are common suburban birds whose populations are doing well. The species whose populations are declining and are in trouble — many migratory warblers, vireos, swallows, swifts, nighthawks, thrushes, and flycatchers — rarely, if ever, frequent feeders.

So, if you’re feeding birds because you enjoy watching them up close that makes sense (a point hard to argue given their beauty and fascinating behaviors!), but if you’re feeding them because you think individual birds and species of birds need your help, it would be better to spend the bird feed money by writing a check to a bird conservation advocacy organization like the National Audubon Society (the local chapter is the Four Harbors Audubon Society) or the American Bird Conservancy.

The 2020-2021 Federal Duck Stamp features a pair of black-bellied whistling-ducks painted by Alabama artist Eddy LeRoy.

Even better, you should take some of the money you’ve saved and buy a federal Duck Stamp, one of the best kept secrets in conservation. More than five million acres of wildlife habitat have been permanently protected, purchased through the use of Duck Stamp funds, including much of the National Wildlife Refuge system (we have some wonderful refuges on Long Island you can explore like Wertheim and Elizabeth Morton).

Simply stated, animals need habitat to survive. Like us, they need water, food and shelter and the Duck Stamp program has provided a way to protect huge expanses of habitat. Buying land that contains valuable wildlife habitat can help bird species survive. Duck stamps are available for purchase at a place which has been much in the news lately: your local Post Office.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

*This article first appeared in Harvest Times 2020, a supplement of TBR News Media

By Melissa Arnold

With cooler weather on the horizon and a bit of normalcy returning to Long Island, there’s no better time to get out and enjoy some fresh air. If you’re looking for a fun and safe outdoor activity that’s out of the ordinary, a trip to Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm in Baiting Hollow is just the ticket.

This year, the farm has planted a sunflower maze for the first time. Following the success of sunflower mazes grown earlier this summer, co-owner Jeff Rottkamp has planted a new series of mazes that will bloom in the fall.

The family-owned farm has been in business for more than 50 years now, with centuries of agriculture in their blood. Fox Hollow is currently run by Jeff, his parents and brother, with help from other relatives.

In recent years, people have flocked to the farm to enjoy the season’s bounty along with hayrides and corn mazes, but this year, the Rottkamps were excited to try something new.

“I’ve been seeing sunflower mazes popping up online from places all over the country, and I liked the way they looked,” Rottkamp said. “I knew it was something we could do and I thought people would find it fun. We did a brief trial run last summer and the feedback was extremely positive, so we were happy to do it again officially.”

Photo courtesy of
Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm

Setting up any kind of crop maze is a process that requires an imagination and a lot of planning in advance, Rottkamp said. First, you have to select the right field — not too large, not too small, and in just the right spot on the sprawling grounds. Planting begins two months ahead of when they want the maze to be ready.

“Sunflowers need a lot of maintenance and careful watering,” he added. “I come up with the pathways at random each time we plant a field, so it’s a new experience every time.”

There are several varieties of sunflowers in different colors and sizes. In addition to the familiar golden petals, you’ll see sunflowers in shades of pink, maroon and white. Most of the sunflowers will grow to be 4 to 6 feet tall, but there will also be scattered sunflowers around 10 feet tall.

Of course, a maze made of living things can only last so long — sunflowers are only in bloom for about two weeks. To counter this, the farm is planting three different fields of sunflowers at staggered times. When one dies out, the next will be ready to go, and each one is different from the last.

The three fields are also different sizes. In order of growth, they are 1 acre, 4 acres, and 3 acres. But don’t worry about getting lost. “It’s not that kind of maze, it’s not a puzzle. It’s more of a wandering path that you can take your time going through, to take pictures and have a little bit of fun,” Rottkamp explained. “No one will get lost, and this is appropriate for all ages to enjoy.”

Before or after your trip through the maze, be sure to stop by the farmstand and pick up fresh, seasonal produce. Autumn will bring in the last of the sweet corn and tomatoes, as well as pumpkins, winter squash and zucchini, among others.

There are treats for sale as well, including local honey, Tate’s Bake Shop cookies, and fresh pies and donuts from the Jericho Cider Mill.

The mazes will be open for wandering throughout September and into October if the crop and weather permit.

Admission to the Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm sunflower maze is $5 per person. Children ages 5 and under are free. The farm is located at 2287 Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow. For further information, please call 631-727-1786.

This article first appeared in Harvest Times 2020, a supplement from TBR News Media.

All photos by Heidi Sutton