June 2024: Heckscher State Park

12 for 12! This month, we headed to East Islip to visit Heckscher State Park. From picturesque beaches to expansive forests, this park is a smorgasbord of everything Long Island has to offer!

It’s perhaps easiest to describe Heckscher by comparing it to the other state park we’ve covered this year: Connetquot. Connetquot State Park is a hiker’s park. The trails stretch on forever and take you deep into the wilds of Long Island. Heckscher is, then, an everyone’s park. There are trails through the woods, of course, but many of these are paved. In fact, the number of paved paths and sidewalks in Heckscher is so extensive, you could spend hours walking along them, and still never cover them all. Heckscher also has ample facilities that make it a prime destination for summer fun, even if you don’t enjoy hiking. There are picnic areas with dozens of tables, basketball courts and disc golf baskets and, thankfully, several restroom facilities strategically situated around the park.

Most of the land immediately surrounding the parking lots is carefully maintained, but that doesn’t mean it’s bereft of Long Island’s natural beauty. If you’re up for a trickier walk, the extensive shoreline provides stunning views of the Great South Bay, and is thoroughly populated by Great Egrets, Forster’s Terns, Laughing Gulls and Willets. A well-marked bike path runs in a massive circle around the marsh that occupies the central area of the park, and benches pop up regularly alongside it if you decide to walk this path.

It’s worth noting that Heckscher State Park has an $8 parking fee (as is the norm for state parks after Memorial Day). There are also annual and lifetime passes that you can buy, but whether or not that’s a worthwhile purchase depends on your own individual circumstances.

All the aforementioned qualities that separate Heckscher from other parks lead to a very unique quality that strongly affects how visiting the park makes you feel. Generally, going to a park means you’re going out into nature, and thus away from other people. Sure, you may see some other hikers on a trail, but your interaction with them will consist of a quick nod or “how are ya?” and then you’ll be on your way. Because of all of the humancentric activities that Heckscher accommodates, you’re not going to be able to get away from it all at this park. Pretty much any way you walk, you’ll see a dozen or more people tossing frisbees, or setting up a barbecue, or sunning themselves on the sand. Heckscher fosters a communal experience, not a solitary one. So, if you’re looking for a quiet, meditative experience, then Heckscher is not the park for you. Of course, if you are looking for a place to bring a large group – be it your family, or a work function, or what have you – then Heckscher is the best park for that. A huge driving force behind 12 for 12 is showcasing the fact that there’s a staggering diversity in Long Island’s parks, and what park is the best to visit depends entirely on what you want to get out of it. Heckscher is a park that a lot of people can get a lot out of, and for different reasons.

When all is said and done, Heckscher State Park is a jack of all trades. There’s plenty of wildlife, and a diversity of habitats for nature lovers, but also ample facilities for people who just want to get outdoors and get moving. Whether you’re just looking for a safe place to run or bike, or a place to have a picnic with your grandkids, Heckscher can give you what you want.

By Travis Cutter, Long Island Pine Barrens Society