Around the Island

Summer Saunters: Touring the Nature Preserves

Another selection in the Reporter’s series on getting up and out.

Walking into the Mildred Flower Hird Nature Preserve is like coming upon a secret that’s too good to share. An incredibly quiet, shaded walk among old trees that gently filter the sunlight from above, it immerses you in a peaceful world just steps away from the road.

Were it my secret, I would keep it to myself, but this bit of forest has been preserved for all visitors to enjoy, through the Community Preservation Fund, working with the town, Suffolk County and nonprofit organizations.

Last fall, a ribbon was cut to officially open and dedicate the property to Ms. Hird’s memory by her daughter, Esther Hunt, after the family sold the property to the town for preservation. Thirty acres of old oak and beech trees on the east and west side of Menantic Road in Dering Harbor have been set aside for walking. A trail has been cleared, providing distance from the brush and a gentle surface underfoot.

Only the occasional boulder or log interrupts the constant sea of green that surrounds the visitor. So quiet is the spot, that even sudden birdsong comes as a surprise, making you realize it’s the only sound. Gazing up at blue sky through the tall trees, the word “cathedral” comes to mind.

The western portion takes you toward the Julia Dodd Creek, surrounded by marsh plants. By the time I emerged from the western side, I felt as mellow as though I’d taken a yoga class. I considered walking the eastern side next, but the sight of a car parked at the entrance made me decide to leave the solitude to another; I could explore it another day.

Just a half-mile or so down the road by Cobbetts Lane is the entrance to another preserve, on the site of Old Lima Bean Fields. In addition to the new signage recently erected at the preserves, this spot is clearly marked by a bright red farm engine, newly painted over its familiar vintage shade of rust. In the heyday of the lima bean industry — a major part of the Island economy until the 1950s — this was used to pump water over the fields.

It’s the only indication on the site of its former character as a farm. A trail winds over three-quarters of a mile through the preserve, where the boughs of trees younger than those in the Hird Preserve gently shade the visitor.

At one point the path becomes a dramatic tunnel through a stand of cedar trees. As the path curves through the woods, it’s easy to have fun getting “lost” if guiding arrows are missed. But all steps will eventually bring you out to the road, if not the main entrance.

Early morning is probably the best time to visit these preserves in summer. The Hird Preserve was refreshingly cool at 10 a.m. during my visit. The Lima Bean Fields area, somewhat less shady, is best visited earlier.

In all these preserves, visitors are advised to stay on trails. No bicycles or motorized vehicles are permitted. Dogs on leashes are allowed, except in the Mashomack Preserve, and picking up after pets is required. As with any outdoor activity, preventive measures should be taken before and after to protect against tick bites.

A new map of these sites can be downloaded from shelterislandtown.us/community-preservation-board.