SHERWOOD FOREST meets
the Vienna Woods at two adja-cent
nature preserves in the
heart of the South Shore's
19th century Gold Coast.
At Connetquot River State Park
Preserve in Oakdale, hikers half-ex-pect
England's legendary Robin
Hood to gallop from behind every
stout oak. But only an occasional
local horseback rider breaks the
mood of a forest primeval in the
3,473-acre preserve - a onetime pri-vate
hunting ground that now scrupu-lously
protects its bountiful flora (in-cluding
wild orchids) and fauna
(deer, wild turkeys and more than
200 species of birds) and restocks its
waters for controlled fishing revered
by anglers from around the world.
Austria's more manicured woods are
evoked at adjoining Bayard Cutting
Arboretum in Great River, where
brawny weeping beeches and feath-ery
pines shade wildflower gardens
and sweeping lawns that surround
an Americanized Tudor-Queen Anne
(and remotely alpine) mansion. The
697-acre arboretum, which also bor-ders
the river, is especially noted for
spring-flowering shrubs such as
rhododendrons and azaleas.
Both properties acknowledge
they're not your usual state parks.
From the long list of prohibitions
(Bayard specifies no pets, bikes,
picnics, Frisbees, kites, jogging,
ball playing, climbing trees,
picking flowers; Connetquot
adds no feeding of wild ani-mals
and no smoking -
plus requires a permit),
you may conclude they're
no fun. But they're meant
to introduce suburban deni-zens
to nature at its purest
- and to show how blissful
this can be.
Railroad and shipping ty-coon
William Bayard Cutting
began developing the arboretum
in 1887 at his summer estate -
one of many built around that time on
the South Shore by wealthy men less
known than the titans of industry who
a generation later firmly affixed the
Gold Coast label to the North Shore.
Part of Bayard's estate was designed
by the renowned firm of Frederick
Law Olmsted. Though many of its old-est,
tallest evergreens were de-stroyed
by Hurricane Gloria in 1985,
the remaining collection is still
thought to be the most extensive on
Long Island. And up close, you'll see
that the giant weeping beech in the
side yard has served as more than a
natural umbrella. A wooden deck
now makes it easier to walk around
the rooty trunk but harder to carve
any more grafitti into its papery bark
(beech comes from an old English
word meaning book of the woods, and
this one is a veritable encyclopedia).
Only a few rooms in the house are
open to view, but are worth a visit for
the antique fireplaces, Tiffany win-dows
and great gift shop. There are
lawn concerts most summer Sundays
and frequent guided walks.
Across the meandering river (and
headlong Sunrise Highway), you enter
a wilder world at the Connetquot pre-serve,
where the roar of traffic soon
morphs into the burbling of water and
twittering of birds. From 1866 to 1973,
this was the province of the South
Side Sportsmen's Club -whose illus-trious
members included President
Grover Cleveland and Gen. William
Tecumseh Sherman. The circa-1820
clubhouse building by the pond
(where there's also an 18th century
gristmill) was initially a stagecoach
stop called Snedecor's Tavern.
About a mile's walk through woods
and fields (only seniors and those
with medical reasons may drive) is
the hatchery, where fingerlings are
raised in outdoor holding ponds cov-ered
with netting. But don't be sur-prised
if a trout drops out of the sky;
sometimes a sly osprey snatches,
then loses, its wiggly prey. To satisfy
young visitors' desire to feed some-thing,
a dispenser is stocked with pel-lets
for the ducks plying the canal.
Want to fish? The species are limit-ed
to brook, brown and rainbow
trout. But thousands are released
each year and about 12,500 anglers
book appointments to fly-cast from
boats or platformed sites (which
avoid damage to stream banks).
The preserve also offers a variety
of intriguing year-round programs
for children, adults and families.
Even Robin Hood likely couldn't re-sist
a "bat safari."
Barbara Shea's e-mail address is
NEXT FRIDAY: BELMONT PARK RACETRACK
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Neighboring Heckscher State
Park, at the southern end of
Heckscher Parkway in East Islip,
Fee: $7 per car daily June 23-Sept.
3. $5 May 20-June 22; weekends and
holidays Sept. 8-Oct. 8. Park offers
swimming, biking, hiking, ball
playing, concerts and other events
and activities that aren't allowed in
the adjoining state preserves.
AT A GLANCE
Bayard Cutting Arboretum,
Montauk Highway, Great
Hours: 10 a.m. to sunset
legal holidays year-round.
Fee: There's a $5 park-ing
fee daily April to
Labor Day, then week-ends
free at other times. Wheel-chair
Connetquot River State
Park Preserve, Sunrise High-way,
Oakdale; 631-581-1005. Ac-cess
is only by free permit, valid for
one year (write to Box 505, Oakdale, N.Y.
11769); added requirements for fishing.
For information on guided walks and
other programs, call 631-581-1072.
Hours: Sunrise to sunset Tuesday
through Sunday, April 1 through Sept.
30, Wednesday through Sunday Oct. 1
through March 31. Fee: Admission is free
but there's a $5 parking fee year-round.
Partial wheelchair accessibility. Child ap-propriate.
Did You Know? The Connetquot is des-ignated
a New York State Recreational
River for the stretch through Connetquot
River State Park Preserve, attesting to
the high water quality (thus fishing is al-lowed,
but not canoeing).