Free Family Fun on Long Island’s South Shore

by on February 4th, 2015
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Affordable family fun on Long Island isn’t difficult to find with a little bit of planning and a modest amount of imagination. For those who live in Western Suffolk County or don’t mind traveling to get there, you can find some free outdoor recreation that’s appropriate for the whole family, Fido, included.

Suffolk County’s Gardiner Park, located on Montauk Highway in Brightwaters is dog-friendly and offers 231 acres of nature with 3.5 miles of wide trails for exploring, taking a leisurely stroll, biking or running, with or without your four-legged friends. There is also a small playground that includes a climbing structure, slides and swings for the younger set. A picnic pavilion is next to the playground area and offers a nice spot to have a snack.

Dogs are not allowed in the vicinity of the playground area and dogs are also required to be leashed at all times. The county offers disposal bags for your dog’s, well, excrement. Most pet owners who frequent this park are pretty responsible as the bags are offered in multiple locations and trash cans also abound. However, be careful where you step because a few inconsiderate people will leave their dog’s mess right on the trail.

For those who are interested in the flora of Long Island you’ll find black cherry, red maple, beech, pitch pine, Atlantic white cedar, tall reed grass, groundselbush, salt marsh, cord grass and eelgrass.

For those who are interested in the fauna of Long Island, keep your eyes open for Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons. You’ll often find geese, swans and various ducks. Occasionally you may spot a plover or even a sandpiper. Boat-tailed grackles love the south shore, so you may see a few flying about along with seaside sparrows and other common birds. If you visit early in the morning or near dusk, you are bound to see some rabbits along the edges of the fields.

To keep the younger set engaged during your walk or ride, try organizing a scavenger hunt with a list of things or photos of plants and animals you’ll most likely see on the trails. Simplicity is the key when organizing a hunt. Make a list of common things that will be easy to find. For instance: find a green leaf shaped like an oval or find a leaf with a saw tooth edge. Find a plant with a berry growing on it. Find a vine. Find a bird with black feathers. Find a bird with a red breast. Find an animal with fur. The options are limited. For older children, you can get more specific: find a holly leaf, find eelgrass, find a clamshell, find a crab.

The central path (Beach Road) is approximately 0.7 miles long and leads down to the Great South Bay where you can search for tiny seashells in the sand and enjoy the view of the Captree Bridge. At the end of the trail, during the warmer months, you will most likely find dogs happily splashing and swimming in the surf. Some more intrepid souls may choose to carry a kayak down the path and paddle around the bay.

The other paths branch off of the main path, and offer a plenty of native foliage and tranquil vistas for enjoying. Each trail is wide enough to walk two by two quite comfortably and they all wind back to the central path at one point or another. A small pond offers another scenic vista for relaxing and a few open fields are ideal for Frisbee playing with both two-legged and four-legged friends. Occasionally you may spot some waterfowl enjoying the pond.

If you choose to conduct a nature hunt, you may want to bring a camera to record your finds, and with nature abounding here, and tranquil sailboats on the bay, there are plenty of other reasons to bring that camera as well!

Restrooms are available near the parking lot and a fresh water spiggot is available for thirsty pups. The park is open daily and closes at dusk. Gardiner Park is located about 1/2 mile east of the Robert Moses Causeway on Montauk Highway in West Bay Shore. (631) 854-0935 (seasonal). Administration: (631) 854-4949.


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