Around the Island

Shelter Island Spring Stroll: 5K hills and beach walk

It seems like we’ve spent most of early 2020 waiting for something.

Waiting for winter to end, then staying home and waiting to make as few trips as possible to buy essentials. But spring has kept its own calendar, not needing a signal to send up shoots and flowers, flood the grass with green and coax the worms and bugs out to get to work.

Although it seems like nature has in one sense very badly run amok, unleashing a new virus upon humankind, the Island beckons us to step out and discover the timeless rhythm of this season.

Many of us have participated in the 5K Walk/Run on the Island each fall. It’s a good route for taking a spring stroll, a manageable distance, with plenty of our famous hills to challenge these legs that have been curled up on the couch too long. If you’ve competed in the 5K event in past years, you might try to match or double your time, but you might also want to forget about time and enjoy the sights along the way.

The stroll begins by the Goat Hill Golf Course on West Neck Road, then turns left onto Stearns Point Road. A landmark here is the Shelter Island House, an establishment that’s been offering hospitality for many years.

Early in the 20th century it was owned by the Behringer family, whose patriarch, Louis Behringer, was an accomplished chef and hotelier. In those days, the hotel featured a small area known as the Arbor, serving food and drinks.

Louis’ name became attached to the Arbor and the nearby beach that’s formally known as Crescent — and which lifelong Islanders still call “Loo-ie’s.”

After you pass the hotel and continue past Behringer Lane, your walk will take you along a quiet wooded road. Soon, you’ll come up behind the Perlman Music Program property, which has been the summer home to hundreds of music students for more than 25 years.

The grounds are quiet now, and the prospects for the 2020 summer season are still unclear. Still, the Perlmans have been organizing virtual concerts in recent weeks, for us all to enjoy on YouTube. I don’t think you need to be too tech-savvy to pull up one of the concerts on a smartphone to provide a classical, mellow soundtrack for your walk.

The road provides lots of bends and hills to keep it interesting as you turn toward the left and follow Rocky Point Avenue, then Belvedere Avenue to Nostrand Parkway. This road is lined with large old mansions whose lawns slope down to the bay; fishermen plying these waters refer to the site as Greenlawns.

There are also large wooded tracts that suggest what the Island looked like long before becoming increasingly developed. You may well see some deer, or possibly a box turtle who could use a little help crossing the road to safety. Nostrand will also give you a good challenge with a steep hill before it ends, bringing you to the other end of Rocky Point Road.

Not on the 5K route, but a popular stop is a few yards off to the left, the Island’s famous Kissing Rock, for which no explanation is needed.

Rocky Point takes you past the grounds of Camp Quinipet, also waiting to see if campers return in the summer. The enormous boulders on the Quinipet grounds were left by a melting glacier 10,000 years ago. You’ll now round the bend onto Shore Road, the beginning of our beautiful crescent of a beach.

The venerable Pridwin Hotel is closed this year for major renovations, but memories of weekly barbecues on the lawn come easily to mind. They will return.

This last leg along the beach, even if it’s a tough push at the end of a race, treats you to a salty sea breeze that buoys the spirit.

As you walk along the fence, you’ll come upon a plaque commemorating the beloved swimming teacher, Jack Wroble, who taught generations of children the “flutter kick on a dead man’s float” and so much more.

The finish line for the 5K is just before the now-quiet Sunset Beach restaurant. A few years ago, rock star Debbie Harry, lead singer of Blondie, was performing at a charity event at Sunset Beach. Everyone has their favorite music when out for a walk or a run, but for me, it’s always Blondie in my head. That summer day, a crowd of us gathered on the road out front to enjoy her performance and a cold beer.

She sang my favorite, a song I always connect to Shelter Island: “The tide is high, but I’m holdin’ on”…and oh yes, my friends, we are.