Monday, July 20, 2009

A Railroad Runs Through It

Or My Forest Park Hike

I've been planning on exploring Forest Park for some time and finally I had the chance to do it. It was a warm day, yesterday, so the idea of walking through a shady forest enticed. I drove to Park Lane South, where there was ample street-side parking, then stepped out and felt a cooling breeze emanating from the woods. Ahhh.

click on it for full size
After crossing the boundary, the first thing I like to get is a map -where am I going? Fortunately, there was a park map on the park drive. I took a photo of it, as I am prone to do when I do not have a printed map, and used my camera screen to view it. On this day, it really helped.

The beginning of the trail. At this point, I had no idea how confusing the trail system would be. All was well, the trail was soft underfoot. I wore open-toed shoes (beware, missed roots had me tripping over myself on some trail parts).

As the title suggests, the LIRR actively runs through Forest Park. To boot, so does Jackie Robinson Parkway, Myrtle Ave, and Metropolitan Ave. I was never able to get fully away from the woosh of vehicles.

Not long into what I believed to be the blue trail, the fencing to isolate the train tracks is completely blown out. On the left -looking north, on the right -looking south. I found myself at this location on the blue and yellow trails.

I also found this fresh campfire site. Makes you think about those who may live in or near the park.

So I am walking along on what I think is the blue trail and suddenly I've merged with the bridle trail. I wanted to avoid this, but I could see no way to stay off as the blue trail is gone as far as I could tell. The bridle trail is good for walking, but beware - I ran into many riders galloping their horses.

Its at this point that I am beginning to learn something about Forest Park. It has obvious, distinct spur trails that the map doesn't show. The trails are well worn and I guarantee will confuse. This intersection above was easy to navigate, but many were not. I passed tens of intersections that were not mapped on the orange, blue, or yellow trail. But by far, the blue trail had the most. So, I would say that Forest Park is an excellent place to come and discover your trail map reading skills, learn how to use your compass, or hone your woods navigation skills. No chance of really getting lost since you are bounded by the city, but ample opportunity for confusion and decision making.

The park was not in good shape. Lots of downed trees, bare areas, weedy zones. In fact, it reminded me so much of where I grew up, I felt psychologically transported 40 miles east to the hummocky oak landscape of my youth. I grew up on the eastern side of the Harbor Hill terminal moraine which extends all the way through Jersey. Forest Park sits squarely on one of its high points.

Part of the dilapidated walking path, which may be the orange trail in between Park Lane South and one of the park drives. Something about these lamps, duct-taped up and leaning into the trees, that says uncared for.

The blue and yellow trail were mostly clear of poison ivy, but the Orange trail had it in many spots, like this large patch.

All in all, I was underwhelmed by my Forest Park experience. I hiked all the trails, barring the orange along the Jackie Robinson Parkway, in about two hours.

I do wish that people you pass on the trail would show the courtesy of acknowledgement. Out on wilderness trails, if you pass someone, general etiquette is to say hello. Here in the city I know we have different attitudes about acknowledging those in close proximity. With that in mind, I argue that it is more valuable to acknowledge when hiking in highly populated areas. Its just creepy to pass someone on a trail that only warily eyeballs you or worse, doesn't even look. Passing lone men out in the woods, especially in a place with so many desire paths, can put a person at dis ease that could be well assuaged by a hello, a smile, or even a simple nod. I will manage one of those three if I pass you on a woods trail in the NYC area. Hope you do the same.

Despite my complaints, I did make some discoveries...

I've been seeing this everywhere I go recently and Forest Park had a lot. Obviously a berry, like rasp or black. But neither of those...

It's notable for its bright orange berry (before it goes red I think) and its hairy/thorny sepals.

I spotted a couple of these, but cannot ID them. Five petaled, St. Johnswort-like yellow flowers; trifoliate leaves, astilbe-like; maybe 2 feet tall in the woods. Anybody?

I did find a few patches of fern on the yellow and blue trail.

On the blue trail, just passed 'The Gully,' this dangerous looking plant was trailside. It had spines on its stem and spines at the axil of each set of leaves. They were sharp. The leaves are pinnately compound. The stems were green, the whole plant green. It looked like a weed to me, but hard to say. It grew in a patch that looked as if it may become large shrubs or small trees some time in the future. My only guess is Aralia spp., but I didn't see any flowers or berries. I'm not sure Aralia has those axil spines. Anyone???

In two locations I spotted garden iris.

Tulip trees were present, especially on the yellow trail.

This fungus I found on the orange path, near the park drive. Anybody know this one?

On the yellow trail, not far from the train tracks, this big black beetle crossed my path. I couldn't take a good photo, she was moving fast. I take it for a she, because it seemed to be depositing eggs in the soil every few inches.

This was the prize, made the whole trip worth it. Indian Pipe. I've never seen it on Long Island before, although it most certainly grows here.

Map It.


  1. Maybe the berry is a wineberry? I live close to Forest Park and I've seen them too. Wildman Steve Brill does tours there a few times a year. Here is his profile of the wineberry, with pics:


  2. Rubus phoenicolasius....

    You are probably right on this. Most of the photos I saw had deep red berries and the hairs were dark red. But... since this is breeding with other Rubus, who knows how many permutations are out there? Most of the texts did say the berries were orange to red. It stood out to me as quite different from typical Rubus that I am used to seeing, which is what probably caught my attention besides those striking orange drupes!

  3. Your second flower looks like it is in the rose family. Specifically, woodland agrimony.

    Beautiful patch of Indian pipe you found!

  4. Salmon berry?

    Did it taste nice?

  5. Frank-Rachel here. I am freaking out right now. Just yesterday I noticed that I had 3 tomatoes in back and 1 out front with the first blush of red starting. I watered the plants this evening and then took Xena for her walk. When I came home I discovered that someone came in my front gate, stole the ripening tomato, and closed the gate!! Bastards! Thieves! Tomato Pirate! This is my second year with plants out front and I'm not the only one in the neighborhood with plants out front. What if they're having thieving problems as well. Can I start a vigilante gang? Call me I need to give you the insurance cert for the van.

  6. Salmon berry would be a find. I don't think so because of the hairy buds/sepals on these that I'm seeing. I also didn't eat it. My poison sense didn't tell me it was so, but still, I chose to not eat-not quite ripe yet either-almost.

    Rachel here,

    I'll call. Full Frontal Tomatoes suggest thievery to some. I hear its all the rage, stealing tomatoes as soon as the red is visible. Wasn't a squirrel? Just checking. Electric cages should outsmart the weak and stupid.

  7. Michelle,

    Thanks, I think thats right. I went through the yellow on CTBotanical, but I didn't see the agrimony.

  8. This kind of places are great, I like them because are excellent to go for a walk, and in the city there's not to much of that, thanks for share.


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