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Before we went on our first camping trip, we thought we should acclimate the kids to more “rugged” activities. Our kids spent a good amount of time outside but doing more conventional kid things like climbing playground equipment and running around in the backyard. We had never taken them into the woods before and didn’t want to just take them from zero to sleeping outside without some sort of preparation. We thought a day trip or two in the woods would be a good way to ease them into it.

Long Island is known for a lot of things but hiking isn’t one of them. I found Avalon Park and Preserve the way I do most other places, as you’ll come to find out, I turned to Google. The park is located in Stony Brook, NY on the North Shore of the island. It was created as a memorial for a local resident named Paul Simons who was an avid outdoorsman. (You can read more about his story and the park’s founding.) What sold me on driving about an hour out east was the promise of easy terrains for the kids and no entrance fee.

We packed sandwiches, snacks, and water bottles and headed out. Once you turn off the main highway, you drive down a tree lined road that turns into dirt and that’s how you know you’re on the property. We parked in the first lot we found and headed out. Our first trail was straight into the woods and the kids got their first taste of a hike.

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Being that it’s on Long Island, the elevation changes weren’t dramatic at all. The park’s map only shows an elevation change of eighty feet at the highest points but there were some tricky parts for the newbies and they did just fine.

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While in the woods, we saw a large white tail deer, not an uncommon site on the East Coast. We also heard lots of song birds, a woodpecker, and the freakiest spider Tim or I have ever seen. (No picture because it was that creepy and fast.)

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After coming back down the trail we crossed the road and headed into the meadow where we quickly ran into several guinea hens clucking along the path.  It’s a good thing the guineas live in the park because they love to eat ticks and you know what the East Coast and Long Island in particular are infested with? Ticks. Ticks that spread Lyme’s Disease (ask Tim he’s had it twice). You could tell the guineas had been there a while, they weren’t too bothered by us. They meandered in and out of the tall grasses on either side of the trail for quite a while before we lost them. From what I read, the field is full of wildflowers in the spring and early summer. There were a few flowers still hanging on and still attracting butterflies.

This trail took us further back into the park and we came upon a clearing with stones dotting the perimeter and a dead or dying tree at the far end. The kids each claimed a rock and dug into their snacks while we checked out the sign that was at the base of the tree.

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Surprisingly, it informed visitors that the tree was an active beehive and it was hopping! It was a small lesson for the kids to learn about the importance of bees.

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After snacks and a breather, we continued on the trail and followed it into another clearing. In this clearing is the Cartas al Cielo installation.

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The name translates from Spanish to mean “cards to the sky or heavens” (depending on your translation). You’re encouraged to write a letter to someone or something that has no earthly address and then place it into the installation for delivery. I can see why people would find the idea appealing; sometimes you just don’t want to share what’s on your mind with anyone else.

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I know the kids wrote letters and drew pictures but I can’t remember if Tim or I did. After “mailing” their cards, we sat back and enjoyed a few minutes of quiet before heading back to our car.

There’s still so much to do at Avalon Park & Preserve, we didn’t touch nearly half of it. There’s a stone labyrinth, a boardwalk that borders the Smithtown Bay, a pond, and water features. I wish we had taken another trip to the park before we left New York.

Location: Avalon Park & Preserve, Stony Brook, NY

Date: August 2016

Cost: Free!

Style: day trip; hike

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