Friday, September 5, 2014

Long Island Running: the Greenbelt Trail

The only good picture I could find of the Trail Map
I work for a company that sends me to the heart of Long Island a few times a year. It's pretty much all suburbia, with windy roads trafficked by too many cars, and so I'm always on the lookout for some running trails. Internet searches kept mentioning this Greenbelt Trail, but I just couldn't find any real information on it.  So here's a rundown of my experiences for any of you looking for some Long Island Trail Running.

I stay at the Hyatt next to Hidden Pond Park in Hauppauge, NY. By looking carefully, I was able to find the entrance to the trail on the north side of Long Island Motor Parkway, which was a break in a chain-link fence overgrown with vines. Once inside, I worked my way up and down some steep hills, moving somewhat slowly due to the loose gravel on the trails. This first portion of the trail system has a series of interconnected trails - some are single track, some are wider and designed for mountain bikes. Continuing north, you'll drop down into Hidden Pond Park itself, where the path flattens out once you start to see the swimming pool and baseball fields. There are a number of trails running around this complex, but if you keep winding north, you'll find yourself in a narrow trail winding in a small right-of-way between neighborhoods and golf courses. Despite this, all of my runs on the northbound portion of the Greenbelt Trail were quiet and isolated - I think I've seen one other person in all of the times I've run there.

I should mention the strange blaze system in the HPP. White blazes mark the main trail, but when coming to a fork or change in direction, there are two white blazes - the second one to ostensibly indicate the change in direction, but it's somewhat confusing. These are interspersed with blazes of different colors, but I haven't determined the reasoning behind these markings, nor have I seen a trail map anywhere. Regardless, once you hit the golf course, the trail is unmistakable.

After crossing Townline Road, the trail is more rural, following a stream and a few tranquil bodies of water. As such, there are a number of helpful wooden bridges over the more marshy portions, all of which were constructed by the local Boy Scouts. (Thanks!) The trail twists and turns, and contains a large amount of roots, so it's hard to keep up a fast pace here, but you'll want to take it slow anyways to enjoy the silence and to catch all of the rabbits bouncing out of your path.

The most challenging part of the runs i've done here was traversing route 347. It's essentially a highway, with no crosswalk or lights anywhere nearby, so you just have to wait for a break in the traffic and sprint across. It's worth it though because the next section of the path takes you through some confier forests with all of the quiet running that involves - the pine needles just swallow up the sound of footfalls. The trail continues from here all of the way to the North Shore, but i've only gone as far as the shopping center in Smithtown. Click here to see my longest northbound run on Strava here.

The section southbound from Hauppauge is located directly across the road from the northbound trail on Long Island Motor Parkway. Here, the trail follows the power lines for a bit, weaves through some significant rolling hills with evergreen trees before dropping down to Old Nichols Road. On the other side of the road, the trail is pleasantly flat, meandering around some horse farms before meeting up with the power lines again. At this point, I lost the trail - the map indicates that the trail continues down to the Long Island Expressway, (somehow) crossing it en route to the southern edge of the island. Here's what this portion of the run looks like. I'm planning on giving this another go during one of my next trips because there's a nice looking Strava segment south of the interstate that I'd like to tackle.

In summary, there are some trails in the meat of Long Island, you just have to know where to look! If anyone reading this has any other good suggestions for running in the Hauppauge area, please drop me a line in the comments.

Bridge over a marshy area

McKinley Pond. Usually see a Heron here!

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