A big push over the past few years to designate hiking trails in woods and fields on Long Island is now making its way onto the water, as more towns and villages map kayak routes for paddlers.
Such routes bring kayakers deeper into marshlands and other places not accessible by boat or car. Stops along these waterways -- town parks, even restaurants -- are destinations on their own.
"The kayaking in this area is fabulous," says Diana Price, 59, of Massapequa, as she washed down her boat after a recent sunset trip with The Dinghy Shop in Amityville, which is near several new kayaking routes recently designated by the Town of Babylon. "The bird life alone -- today we saw oystercatchers and sandpipers."
Even though kayaking routes are mapped out for convenience, paddlers need to pay close attention to currents, boat traffic and weather factors -- taking guided tours organized by many rental outfitters or local paddling clubs is wise, at least until you know the routes, says Mike Bogart, who led the guided trip.
BABYLON'S NEW KAYAK TRAIL
The newest water trails in the Town of Babylon span from Amityville to Babylon. One route hugs the ocean shoreline with launch/rest stops in places like Tanner Park in Copiague, where kayakers can get out and picnic, grab a bite to eat, fish on the pier or use the restrooms. Other routes send paddlers straight across Great South Bay waters to Gilgo or Cedar Beach. Each has been deemed best for beginners, intermediate or more experienced kayakers.
While maps are up on the town's website, deputy supervisor Tony Martinez says there's hope of marking the actual trails. "We're thinking of putting in buoys, which would make people more comfortable, " he says.
Martinez calls Cedar Beach one of the "jewels of the town," where kayakers can hit the sand, eat at the concession stand and kayak all in one day. But the paddle is about 1.5 miles across the Great South Bay.
"There are just suggestions," he says. "You can explore based on your own skill level."
NASSAU COUNTY WATER TRAILS
With the cooperation of towns, a city and villages along the South Shore of Long Island, a new network of kayak routes called the South Shore Blueway debuted recently after years of planning.
There are 22 stops along the way, from Woodmere to Massapequa and along the mainland from Long Beach to Tobay Beach. The map will be updated soon to explain more about what's available at different locations, including restaurants and park facilities, says Barbara LaRocco, president of Going Coastal, a consulting team that helped map and launch the project.
Like in Babylon, trips on the South Shore Blueway can range from one hour to full days, and trails encompass all skill levels. Places like Freeport Kayak Rentals offer rentals and guided tours.
Among the sites on the map is West Hempstead Bay, where paddlers can see bird life among the marsh islands. At some points along the trail you can see the Manhattan skyline, says Brian Schneider, assistant to the deputy commissioner of public works for Nassau County.
At Site 13, for instance, Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve in Merrick runs kayak tours for paddlers to explore the marshes around Merrick Bay.
WHAT TO KNOW
Professional kayaking guides talk a lot about being prepared. Any time you are in open water, there is a risk of drowning.
* WEAR LIFE VESTS Even the most experienced kayakers wear them for the shortest of trips.
* DRESS SMART Bring water, a hat and sunscreen.
* SHARE THE WATERWAY Bikers have to contend with cars, but kayakers have to worry about boats.
*DON'T PADDLE SOLO A shift in wind or water currents can suddenly make it hard to get back to shore.
Town of Babylon
WHERE About 30 miles of routes from Amityville to Lindenhurst, including waterways in and around Gilgo, Cedar Beach and Oak Beach Park
INFO 631-957-3000, townofbabylon.com
South Shore Blueway
WHERE Trails span an 18-mile stretch including the towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay, Freeport, Long Beach and Jones Beach.