At 6:30 a.m., all's quiet on the boardwalk -- except for the thump of running shoes and the occasional "hi!" as friends pass by. Since sunrise, dozens of walkers have been streaming onto the 3 / 4-mile boardwalk at Sunken Meadow in Kings Park. Clad in shorts, T-shirts and tank tops, they carry water bottles and towels. With the sun beginning to burn through the morning haze over Long Island Sound, the park pretty much belongs to the folks taking their morning constitutional.
It's not just the prospect of beginning your day with exercise, but also the serenity of the almost empty park, that's popular at an hour when fellow Long Islanders are still abed.
"It's very peaceful," says Gayle Bellafiore, who is in her sixties and lives in Smithtown. She and her husband, Stephen, 64, are both retired teachers used to rising at 5:30. They come every day "no matter how tired I am," she says. This morning, Stephen is walking while Gayle sits on a park bench, listening to classical guitar music on her iPod, which helps her to meditate.
At 1,266 acres, the park (officially known as Gov. Alfred E. Smith/Sunken Meadow State Park) is a playland during the long summer days, with facilities for golf, horseback riding, hiking and -- of course -- the 3-mile-long white sand beach. Entrance is free between the park's sunrise opening and 8 a.m. -- there's plenty of parking near the boardwalk.
It's a scenic walk with the nearly deserted beach to the north, woods to the south and glacier-formed bluffs at the end. Across the Sound, the Connecticut shore is visible in the distance, shrouded in morning mist.
Some walk here so often that they have made friends who tend to exercise at the same time. "There's a whole 5:30 set of walkers, and then the 6 to 7 group," Gayle Bellafiore says.
A SHORE THING
While most of the traffic is on foot, others take advantage of the seashore location. A red kayak can be seen being paddled along the shoreline -- another man is out sculling. Others take a dip in the water.
"Most people come here to walk or run, but we come here to swim," says Ceferino Salmeron, 64. Salmeron and his wife, Digna, are wading waist-deep in water as their young grandchildren watch from the sand. Ceferino Salmeron, who lived in Central Islip before moving to North Carolina, prefers swimming just after sunrise because that's when "the water is very clear, not dirty."
Peter Athanasatos, 61, of Dix Hills, agrees. "It reminds me of Greece. It's nice and clean in the morning, and there's no waves," Athanasatos says. His morning routine includes a swim from the jetty at the west end of the boardwalk to the eastern end of the beach. He's brought shampoo and a towel for an apres-swim clean up at one of the public showers on the boardwalk. Then, it's off to work.
With bluefish running in the waters surrounding Long Island, the fishing can also be good at this time of the morning. Just west of the jetty, Pete McHugh, 61, of East Northport, is trying his hand casting a popper lure into the calm water.
He's had early morning luck before at this spot.
"Two weeks ago, I caught five blues," he says. A retired registered nurse, he tries to fish between 6 and 7 a.m. when it's cooler and there aren't many other fishermen around. "It's the Zen of fishing," he says. "It's a good way to start the day."
Part of an occasional series about experiences that highlight summer on Long Island.