The Long Island's East End Hiking Group meets daily for a...

The Long Island's East End Hiking Group meets daily for a different hike. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Tim Cody's first reaction when his friend and around-the-block neighbor Chris Scalise, of Manorville, got laid off from his information technology job last fall was this: “I said, ‘Oh good, we can go hiking.’”

That gets a laugh from Scalise, 60, before a recent Tuesday morning hike at Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River that draws more than 60 hikers. That's because Scalise's layoff led to the formation of the grassroots hiking community, Long Island’s East End Hiking Group. 

At first Cody, 52, and Scalise hiked alone. But then Cody started a Facebook group and invited, well, all of Long Island.

Tim Cody, center, leads the group at the start of...

Tim Cody, center, leads the group at the start of the hike at Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River. Credit: Rick Kopstein

The group meets almost daily. Cody focuses on the area primarily east of Patchogue, though he will sometimes choose hikes in the Connetquot River area, like the one at Bayard Cutting Arboretum. Cody and Scalise have led hikes at Dam Pond in East Marion, Inlet Pond County Park in Greenport, Cedar Point County Park in East Hampton, Hallock State Park Preserve in Riverhead, Terrell County Park in Center Moriches, Quogue Wildlife Refuge in Quogue and the Red Creek Park Trail in Hampton Bays, among others.

GREW EXPONENTIALLY

“The first five times was just me and him. We’d be waiting and waiting, and nobody would show up,” Cody says, who has weekdays free because he owns a DJ entertainment company. Then about the third week of December, three women showed up. “That was the last time me and Chris went on a hike and nobody showed up,” Cody says.

A recent hike at Bayard Cutting Arboretum drew more than 60...

A recent hike at Bayard Cutting Arboretum drew more than 60 hikers. Credit: Rick Kopstein

For a New Year’s Eve hike, 16 people came. “We thought that was just incredible,” Cody says.

They hadn’t seen anything yet.

Attendance for a February hike to Robert Cushman Murphy County Park in Manorville: 75.

“From there, it really took off,” Cody says. Now, some hikes draw more than 100 people. Hikes happen four to five times a week and range from 3 to 8 miles long. Cody invested in walkie-talkies and assigns one person at the front of the hike, one to the middle, and one at the end to monitor group communication. If someone can’t make it the entire way, they will be escorted safely back to their car. “No matter what kind of a hiker you are, you’re not going to be left behind,” Cody says.

The group now has official T-shirts, and every hike begins with a group photo that Cody then posts on the Facebook page. “As of now, because we’re just getting started, there’s no fee or anything. Just click yes on the invite and show up,” he says.

Recently, he offered a Spring Fling Social at Connetquot State Park. Single members got green bracelets and non-singles got red and they split into two hikes, allowing the singles to mingle and maybe find a connection. Attendance at the hike: 112.

Cody chooses the locations based on the season — during the winter, when ticks and chiggers are minimal, the group goes into the woods. During the spring, they’ve been doing more of what Cody calls “scenic hikes.” They may add a few beaches. The group will break for the summer — the last hike likely will be the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, he says — and resume in October.

CAMARADERIE, SAFETY, EXERCISE

David Gordon, 68, of Huntington, is a retired engineer; the Bayard Cutting Arboretum was his second group hike. He says he comes for the camaraderie. “And the motivation. If I did it myself, I don’t think I would walk as long. I’d peter out and say, ‘Time for a beer’ or ‘Time for lunch,’” he jokes.

Tim Cody, center, leads the group at the start of...

Tim Cody, center, leads the group at the start of the hike at Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Cody says walking with others makes the exercise less draining. Walk 3 miles alone and you’re tired, he says. “When you’re hiking in a group and you meet new friends and you’re talking, you could do 5 miles and say, ‘That’s it?’” he says.

Galina Vakryuk, 52, of Mastic, is a school bus driver who can fit in the hike between her morning pickups and afternoon drop-offs. She says they are like “a little vacation. Forget your problems, your routine, and you feel better.” She says if she wasn’t on the hike, she’d be cleaning her house. Which, she adds, can wait. “I can do it after, in a better mood.”

Dan Poland, 65, is a retired fishing boat captain from Babylon who has been hiking along with his wife, Terry, 67, a retired teacher. He says he likes the safety-in-numbers aspect of the group. “I don’t feel comfortable going through the woods by myself,” he says.

Other hikers also mentioned feeling safer in case, for instance, they fell or got lost while on a hike alone. Additional benefits, hikers say: Exercise. Meeting new friends. Seeing part of Long Island they’d never been before.

‘IS THAT A TURKEY?’

“I try to come every day,” says Cindy Locrotando, 65, of Southold, a retired emergency room nurse. She brought her granddaughter Josie Kehl, 9, a fourth grader who was off from school for spring break.

Gary Stopa, 53, a retired New York City detective from Central Islip, says the planned hikes get him to parks he otherwise might not go to. “I’m only 10 minutes from here and I’ve never seen this beautiful park,” Stopa says at Bayard Cutting Arboretum.

During the walk, hikers pass a swan in the river, skunk cabbage growing, chickens in a coop, a dahlia garden and cherry blossoms. “Look at these magnificent trees,” says Betty Maugeri, 77, of North Babylon, retired office manager. Then there are the sounds. “Is that a turkey?” hikers ask — indeed it is, visible through the underbrush.

The group has been a blessing to Scalise, whose misfortune started it all. “It’s helping keep me sane while I’m job searching that I have something to do for a few hours,” he says.

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