April 2024: Caleb Smith State Park Preserve

12 for 12! This month, we’ve taken a hike out in Smithtown, at the Caleb Smith State Park Preserve. From a beautiful lake, to the lovely burbling of streams, to hardened pines, this park has a delightful variety of habitats and the wildlife!
Caleb Smith has two entrances – one by the museum, and one by the BOCES/education center – each with a moderate amount of parking. A sign at the museum entrance said that they charge $8 for parking on weekends and holidays, suggesting that the park gets high traffic then. Even on a weekday, the museum parking lot was about half full, though the other lot was empty.
The museum towers over the park. It’s a beautiful old estate, with an accessibility ramp and automatic door. Inside, there are plenty of educational resources, and various worksheets for kids. You can ask the nice park worker if you don’t see what you are looking for. The bathrooms are also exceedingly clean.
From the museum, a wide, paved trail will lead you past the lake, where you’ll see geese, swans, cormorants, and swallows. While there was a bench looking out over the water, there won’t be many more opportunities to sit down on the way, so enjoy it while you can.
Caleb Smith is the kind of park where you can very easily tailor the experience to what you want to get out of it, and what you’re able to do. There’s a main, paved trail, then rocky/dirt paths, narrower, well-marked dirt trails, and less-clear, brushier trails. There’s flat land aplenty, as well as hilly terrain for those who want a bit more of a workout. Just be careful, as some of the more obscure trails don’t loop back around and will instead suddenly stop. There are maps available inside the museum, and so it would be wise to take one before you start your hike, as there are so many branching, intertwining paths that it wouldn’t be too hard to get lost.
As alluded to before, Caleb Smith is home to a wide variety of habitats and wildlife, and the park does a good job of teaching you about them. Besides the resources available in the museum, there are placards along some of the trails that identify various trees you’ll see on your way – everything from black oak to sassafras! Besides the various water birds, there were also warblers, sparrows, and the sound of woodpeckers drilling into the towering trees. Most exciting of all the wildlife I saw on this hike, though, was a ribbon snake! The adorable little reptile was situated on the trail until I noticed him, then he slithered off into a pile of fallen leaves. Here I’ll remind everyone that Long Island s not home to ANY venomous snakes, so there’s nothing to fear from our serpentine friends. Just observe them from a safe distance, and respect that you’re walking through their home, not the other way around.
Caleb Smith is the most easily appreciated park we’ve covered in 12 for 12 this year. It has immaculate guest facilities, and trails that are so extensive you can while hours, without ever forcing you to commit to the long haul. If you want a quick half-hour hike along the paved or gravel paths, you can do that. If you want to spend hours in the thick of it, you can do that. If you want to hang out by the lake or in the museum, you can do that. This is one of those perfectly tuned parks that lets you engage with it at your level, at your own pace, and that puts it head and shoulders above many others.

By Travis Cutter, Long Island Pine Barrens Society