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The serene silence of a Mashomack hike

Islanders know that there’s a uniquely private beauty in our landscapes to be enjoyed between Labor Day and Memorial Day, when the summer crowds are gone. 

Except on the most brutally cold days, walkers can bundle up and get fresh air and exercise in some of the most scenic vistas to be found on the East End. There are miles of trails, hills and beaches to be explored, and it’s always a surprise to see past the bare branches to new views of parts of the Island you thought you knew well.

There are few places offering such intimate encounters with nature as Mashomack Preserve, 2,039 acres filled with interlacing tidal creeks, freshwater wetlands, forests, fields and 11 miles of coastline, all available to visitors. But it’s more than a passive resource. The Mashomack staff has developed special opportunities for visitors to enjoy the Preserve during the winter.

A birder at Mashomack Point last March. (Credit: Charity Robey)

Full moon and for the birds 

On Saturday, Jan. 11, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., a “full moon fields walk” will be offered. Visitors can walk the meadows of the preserve on a (hopefully) calm winter night. Bundle up and enjoy the open grasslands and a view of Shelter Island Sound by the light of the full moon. There may be no better place to enjoy the stars and listen to nature’s nightlife.

The Mashomack Preserve birding club will gather at the Mashomack Manor House on the first Saturday of each month for birding from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Whether a dedicated birder or a first-timer, this is a casual meet-up open to anyone interested in learning more about local species. Coffee will be provided, in case you’re in need of encouragement.

There is also a “Fun at the Feeder” event planned for Saturday, Jan. 18 from 2 to 3 p.m. Visitors can observe the activity of birds drawn to the feeders in winter. Bring your camera.

On days when the Preserve is open (weekends in January), hikers can choose the length of their walk and take a self-guided tour of its myriad features — woods, wetlands, creeks and ponds. There are four major hiking trails, of varying lengths. In addition, the Joan C. Coles Memorial Trail is barrier-free, accompanied by a braille trail and boardwalk and accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. 

Pictured is Mashomack’s Bass Creek in fall. (Credit: Jim Colligan)

The long and the short of it

For hikers, the 1.4 mile Red Trail starts out from the Visitor Center just past the parking lot on Route 114, then winds around past Miss Annie’s Creek, with benches and scenic overlooks where visitors can stop awhile. Interactive features are included; a free audio guide can be accessed on your mobile device or at MashomackTrails.Oncell.com. From the Red Trail, you can access the Yellow Trail, extending 0.9 miles across a rolling meadow.

The 2.4 mile Green Trail offers water views and a look at shellfish restoration efforts in Log Cabin Creek. The Preserve office is in the historic Manor House along the Green Trail. The 0.2 mile Laspia Family Trail, described as a “hidden gem,” that circles Sanctuary Pond, home to birds, turtles and lush growth, can be accessed from the Green Trail. 

The longest hiking trail is the 4.3 mile Blue Trail, crossing the Preserve’s rolling hills and oak-hickory forest and bordering Coecles Harbor, rimming the Great Swamp, turning south and rounding Nicoll’s Point. The trail turns back toward the Visitor Center, taking the hiker along Gardiners Bay, Plum Pond and Bass Creek. 

Hiking in Mashomack (Credit: Reporter File photo)

What could have been

While you’re walking, you might contemplate what you don’t see: mansions, a golf course and marina, all of which were planned in a development scheme that was fortunately upended in 1979, when New York State guaranteed a loan and The Nature Conservancy was ultimately able to purchase the entire property from the Gerard family. Today, The Nature Conservancy describes Mashomack as “The Jewel of the Peconic,” one of the richest habitats in the Northeast.

When you complete your walk, you’ll find a list posted at the Visitor Center where you can write down any wildlife spotted on your walk. Climate change has led to changes in migration patterns and some unexpected visits from birds, who share our enjoyment of this peaceful preserve. 

For information, visit nature.org/mashomack or call 631-749-4219. The Preserve is closed on weekdays in January to allow for hunting. In February and March, the Preserve will be closed on Tuesdays.

More Details

Mashomack Preserve, 79 South Ferry Road.

The schedule for hiker access during the winter months, when hunting is permitted in the Preserve, is limited:

January: 

Trails and Visitor Center open weekends only, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

February-March:

Trails open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Tuesday.

Visitor Center open 9 a.m to 4 p.m. weekends.

Visitor Center open noon to 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday.

Visitor Center closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Hiking Trails: 0.9 miles,  1.4 miles, 2.4 miles    and 4.3 miles.

Barrier-free Joan C. Coles  Memorial Trail: 1 mile in and out.

Donations: $3 per adult,  $2 per child suggested.

Contact: 631-749-4219 or  nature.org/mashomack.