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CONNETQUOT RIVER PARK AND BAYARD CUTTING ARBORETUM

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

shea@newsday.com.

NEXT FRIDAY: BELMONT PARK RACETRACK

WHILE YOU'RE THERE

Neighboring Heckscher State

Park, at the southern end of

Heckscher Parkway in East Islip,

631-581-2100.

Season: Year-round.

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

River; 631-581-1002.

Hours: 10 a.m. to sunset

Tuesday-Sunday plus

legal holidays year-round.

Fee: There's a $5 park-ing

fee daily April to

Labor Day, then week-ends

through November;

free at other times. Wheel-chair

accessibility. Child

appropriate.

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).

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