Roadtrip to Long Island

Summer always seems to hit like a whirlwind around here, and during the season where the garden is changing and showing off more than ever the blog which is supposed to tell the story always enters a slump.  The gardener is busy outside of course, and posting about it falls to the wayside.   That’s bad though since going back through the pictures of seasons past is a favorite activity for the desolate dark days of winter and I need that sunny cheerful reminder to keep me going when icy cold locks up everything.  So let me apologize for the slowdown and also for the lack of visits to other blogs.  I still stop by of course and look, but more in a wallflower way taking it all in but not commenting… oh, and I’ll also apologize in advance if there are too many posts over the next few days.  I’m going to try and catch up and I hope I don’t seem like that other party person, the one who just goes on and on 🙂

avalon prairie stony brook

A prairie planting in Stony Brook NY

I grew up on Long Island and still return as much as I can to visit my parents and my brother’s family.  This last time while the kids were playing and others were visiting doctors and shopping, I snuck off alone for a visit to the Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook, NY for a summertime peek at their fields of prairie plantings.  I was not disappointed.

field of heliopsis avalon stony brook

In mid July Heliopsis helianthoides  (false sunflower) dominates the former farm fields of Avalon.  Keep in mind this photo was taken from above since most topped out at around five feet!

This is North shore Long Island, gold coast, old money territory, and with a location approximately 40 miles out of Manhattan it’s retained much of its city escape feel.  Think Great Gatsby, and although most of the old mansions have either fallen to ruins or been leveled there are still plenty of old estates and gentleman’s farms.  Fences and gates usually separate the common people from these retreats but in this case several tracts were purchased and the gates were opened.

milkweed prairie avalon

Common milkweed dotted the prairie but I didn’t see a single nibbled leaf or monarch caterpillar.

Avalon is made up of three sections, Avalon Park is a manicured area with woodland plantings, walking trails, and art features, Avalon Preserve consists of hiking trails through woodland, old field hedgerows, and the prairie plantings, and East Farm Preserve is a Nature Conservancy property accessible through the Avalon sections.  The three parts combine to form a nice cross section of Long Island’s former wilder self.

paul simmons avalon stony brook

Paul Simmons memorial at Avalon Park and Preserve.

Although today the park is a peaceful oasis filled with children playing and friends strolling, the origins of the park are rooted in grief.  In 1996, 34 year old Paul Simmons was killed by automobile collision while cycling nearby.  To celebrate his life and love of the outdoors the park was created.  At the site of a former pre-park residential building a memorial for Paul has been built, with an adjacent meditation labyrinth.  On this visit art installations of colorful knit ‘tree sleeves’ and hanging patterns dotted the area.

avalon labyrinth stony brook

Meditation circle  

The park plantings, buildings, and care reflect a healthy park endowment and it’s not surprising considering that the father of Paul Simmons is one of the world’s wealthiest men.  James Simons is a math man who has translated his mathematical talents into the financial markets and stands somewhere in the 70-80 range of wealthiest people worldwide (around 30th for wealthiest Americans).  His story is a fascinating one, but his estimated 14 billion net worth surely hasn’t hindered park funding, and is always the subject of whispered stories in the three villages area of who works for his remarkably successful Renaissance Technologies and what their annual take home pay might be.

avalon park stony brook new york

A second residence on purchased park property has been transformed from a 1940’s ranch to a coastal New England style park office, ready for park foundation functions and always immaculately manicured. 

Coming down out of park brings you down to the Stony Brook mill pond.  This is the duck pond I loved visiting back in the day and is the power source for the Stony Brook grist mill (c.1751).  As recently as 1940 the mill was still carrying on the work of grinding local grains into flour and even today the wheels are put into motion on summer weekends for the sake of tourists. It’s an area rich in history from the sea captains who settled around the harbor, to the colonial farms which cover the rolling hills, to the Manhattan escapees who missed the train to the Hamptons and ended up here.

cormorant rookery stony brook

Cormorants nesting on a mill pond island.  These are relatively recent arrivals to the area,  only now recovering from their fish-robbing persecution from days gone by.

I love this area for its quiet waterfront peacefulness and many hidden treasures, but on this visit it was the flower filled fields which really made me smile.  On a still summer morning the low hum of thousands of native bumblebees visiting the flowers and the less-than-springtime-frantic chirping of songbirds really worked magic to calm the day.

Avalon prairie planting

Avalon prairie plantings.  Even with the heliopsis blooms dominating early summer, there were plenty of other native grasses and colorful perennials to carry on for the rest of the year. 

Good thing the day started out relaxed.  Summertime beach visits and afternoons spent barbequing can be so stressful 🙂

west meadow beach ny

Cousins exploring the salt marsh near West Meadow beach in Setauket, NY.

Now back to the garden.  We’ve been to Florida and back in the meantime and catching up in the garden has been an uphill battle against Japanese beetles and crabgrass…. but there’s been plenty of pool time too, so I really can’t complain!

Viva la summer 🙂

12 comments on “Roadtrip to Long Island

  1. Christina says:

    Fabulous post Frank; you obviously love the place and your mood came through in your writing. thank you for sharing a place you love with someone who knows nothing about this area of the world. Welcome home and do just take time to enjoy your garden too.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Christina, I always like going back, but this visit was an especially nice one 🙂
      I’d like to post more about my old Long Island haunts, but there’s only so much time and I rarely feel like traipsing around with a camera when I’d rather be paying attention to the people I’m with.

  2. My face is red with shame that I have been totally unaware of something that is less than a half hours’ drive way. With traffic. And red lights. (slinks off to corner in mortification)

    • bittster says:

      So many of the parks are small and hidden and they’re not really big on advertisement.
      I didn’t realize you were so close! Send me an email sometime if you’re interested in a few other nice visits in the area, many are just barely marked driveways or narrow side entrances and usually only found by word of mouth.

  3. Nice to know there are still some nice spots on the Island that the common folk can enjoy! It reminds me a little of our own Dorflinger Sanctuary here in the Highlands, except on a larger scale. Looking forward to your promised deluge of posts now that you’re home, Frank! (With the weather this dry, at least you won’t have to spend much time mowing!)

    • bittster says:

      I don’t think the three parks together are much more than 150 acres total, so it might seem bigger than it really is, but regardless of size it’s a fantastic escape in such a built up and restricted access area.
      I visited Dorflinger several years ago to visit the glass museum and walk the sanctuary, and you’re right that it does give the same feeling. They’re both great places to visit to just relax.
      We’ll see how the posting goes, I’ve actually had these pictures uploaded to a draft for nearly three weeks! ….and again mowed the lawn this evening 🙂

  4. What a great park. I never heard of the Paul Simmons Memorial. Avalon Park is a wonderful place and has such beautiful fields of false-sunflower. Nice trip!

    • bittster says:

      So many parks stop at the purchase and development of trails, this one really makes an effort at maintaining the feeling of openness, controlling invasives, and managing different ecosystems. It’s a great example of land stewardship.

  5. I too grew up on Long Island (pronounced Long Guyland by most of my family). Not familiar with Avalon, which looks like it is really worth visiting. Sadly I have no more family left to visit in metro NYC – they are dispersed to exotic places like Minnesota and South Jersey. I do remember visiting Jones Beach, the Old Westbury Gardens, and the Teddy Roosevelt estate when I was a kid (talk about old money!).

    • bittster says:

      I think the Teddy Roosevelt estate was a required field trip for when I was growing up! All I remember is a lot of mounted animal trophies. Old Westbury is still worth a visit, it’s only become better.
      Peer pressure has made me loose the accent, and two years in Texas scared the last of the Yankee out of me!

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