Hikers' mission: To blaze new Suffolk trail

Tom Casey, Vice President of the Long Island

Tom Casey, Vice President of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail, leads a group on three-mile hike on unmarked paths that may become part of a new north-south trail in Yaphank. (Sept. 2, 2012) (Credit: Ed Betz)

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Shoes crunched on fallen tree bark and monarch butterflies floated above the trail in the woods.

But many of the 30 hikers who walked the rural path they called the Carmans Trail in Yaphank Sunday were there to do more than enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. They had a mission.

"The hope is to create a new trail," said Tom Casey, Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference hike leader, at the start of the 4- to 5-mile journey. The hike was designed to preview what conference leaders hope will be part of the Paumanok Path, which sits just north of the trail.

The conference, a nonprofit volunteer organization with more than 2,000 members, aims to protect Long Island's open spaces. And, officials said, it has built and maintains more than 150 miles of hiking trails. Eventually, the organization wants to make Paumanok "the ultimate Long Island hiking experience," according to its brochure -- a 120-mile trail from Rocky Point to Montauk Point.

Conference officials say the Paumanok Path is destined to become Long Island's Appalachian Trail, meaning several trails that can be linked into one.

The route already includes the Pine Barrens Trail and 45 additional miles in East Hampton, including the Northwest Path, Stephen Talkhouse Path and shorter segments in Southampton, according to the group.

To extend the Carmans trail to the Paumanok Path, the organization must gain approval from Brookhaven Town, Suffolk County and the state. Casey, 66, said he is optimistic, but nothing has been finalized.

During the hike, members of the trail conference, which was formed in 1978 and goes on 150 guided hikes each year, stopped at various landmarks to learn about the history of the trail.

Teresa Yurgel of Seaford said she was there to get outdoors. "I want to get away from cars and houses," she said.

Dave Hand, 45 of Patchogue, was more philosophical: "The woods remind me of what it is to be human. It slows you down and makes you realize where our real values are."

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