Attending this year’s first Rainbow Lantern Walk — a stroll around a Long Island state park amid rainbow colored lanterns commemorating June’s Pride Month — was "very therapeutic" for Central Islip's Jonathan Zamor. The walk took him through Sunken Meadow State Park at dusk, lantern in hand, with his partner Francesco Fortuna and a group of like-minded individuals.
"It was nice to be among friends," says Zamor, 35, a security guard.
Fortuna, 29, a library clerk who lives in Commack, adds: “We just want to feel accepted and not have to worry about how people perceive us.”
Three more lantern walks are scheduled in June. This is the second year the New York State Parks department is hosting the events, notes Emily Ulceus, an environmental educator for Connetquot State Park. Throughout the year, the state parks hold evening lantern walks, some with themes, like the spooky series around Halloween. This year, they’ve added Heckscher State Park to the mix for the rainbow walks.
Rainbow Lantern Walks at NYS Parks
Each event runs from 8 to 9:30 p.m. and includes a safety and Pride history presentation.
COST: $4 cash per person; reservations required
June 17: Caleb Smith State Park, meet at Nature Museum, main parking lot; 581 W. Jericho Tpke, Smithtown; Call 631-265-1054 to register; parks.ny.gov
June 23: Heckscher State Park, meet at Field 3; 1 Heckscher State Parkway, East Islip; parks.ny.gov
June 30: Connetquot River State Park, meet at Main House; 4090 Sunrise Highway, Oakdale; parks.ny.gov
At each walk, which traverses through a variety of habitats, participants are handed lanterns to help them find their way, as guides lead them along trails, pointing out wildlife they see and hear, such as screech owls and flying turkeys. At the Sunken Meadow event earlier this month, the group came in contact with a baby turtle in the parking lot, which they released after moving into a safer area.
Before the walk, a guide reviews safety measures, warning participants to walk slowly and not run in front of the leader, and to watch out for tree roots and branches. The event also includes a presentation about the history of Pride Month, including the story of the Stonewall uprising in Greenwich Village. Due to a limited number of lanterns, walks are limited to about 30 people.
Fortuna says they learned a lot about both nature and Pride history, and thinks these types of events are more important than ever.
“It’s kind of sad to see how, in a sense, parts of the country are regressing," Fortuna says. "So, this was a nice little way to show that despite everything that’s happening, we’re still here, we’re still doing these things, we’re still showing our visibility to everybody.”
Having recently returned to Long Island from Los Angeles, Ami Goodheart says she was looking for some way to celebrate Pride. “I didn’t know if there would be anything on Long Island,” says Goodheart, 50, a costume designer for film and TV.
A volunteer for NYC’s Pride Parade on June 25, Goodheart says, “It feels more important, now more than ever, to support each other and to rally up our allies to support us, too, and do things like this.”