Friday, August 14, 2009

Meet Me in Muttontown

I came to the Muttontown Preserve in the fourth grade. Now that I think of the many nature-oriented trips we took that year, I am aware of the way a teacher can influence a young mind. I thought I might remember these trails, but it was hard to say whether I really did or not. It was familiar, but most of Long Island is to me by now.

Muttontown Preserve is a collection of three Nassau County old Gold Coast estates at the junction of two of Long Island's terminal moraines -let's say it's where geology meets extraordinary wealth. Much of Long Island's northern tier was comprised of these estates from the turn of the 19th century through the Great Depression. The wealth and giant estates of this period helped preserve some of Long Island's most beautiful woodlands from the development of the postwar period. Yet, many have fallen into disrepair and were demolished, many were incorporated into parks, some are still privately held. Of those open to the public, a few examples: the Nassau County Museum of Art on the old Frick property, The Vanderbilt Museum on the old Vanderbilt estate, Old Westbury Gardens at the old Phipps estate, or Caumsett State Park at the old Marshall Field III estate, or Sands Point Preserve at the old Guggenheim estate.

If you go for a hike at Muttontown Preserve and want to make a day of the trip, stop by Teddy Roosevelt's old place at Sagamore Hill and/or the Planting Fields Arboretum, both just down the road a bit. Both old estates and both worth a visit.

The map for the Muttontown Preserve. Click on it for full size. From my experience, the trail map is generally accurate depiction of all the trails and foot paths, with some exceptions near the ruins. The paths in the preserve are well-worn or maintained, but poorly marked. As of this post date, the numbered trails mean nothing when you are out on the trail. I traveled the 2 to the 6 to the 7 to the ruins, then the 5 to the 6 back to the 2. I really wanted to cross to the 4 from the 5 on my return, but I couldn't figure out how to do it.

An example of the old, meaningless trail marking system, and the new, but unfinished one.

From the preserve "house," I took this trail. It was cool and pleasing here, even though it was quite a warm morning.

This has been a wet summer, so the preserve is wetter than usual. Some trails were puddled like this one. Wear sneakers or boots, not open shoes like I did, and you'll be much happier.

Some trails had a lot of poison ivy to the side, but some had it growing underfoot -where the path was mowed. I was careful, despite my open shoes, and I didn't get any rash.

The trails were often wide and inviting, with a romantic glow cast onto its verdure.

In the woods, this berry. The last time I saw it, I didn't forage.

Wineberry, Rubus Phoenicolasius. This time I ate a lot -tart but good.

Here with a late blooming Rhododendron.

Eventually I came upon this concrete wall. There was no way in.

Near the corner of the wall I sustained multiple mosquito bites trying to get a photo of this butterfly.

Although not reminded by the big wall, I was somehow reminded by the old asphalt driveway that I was now traveling through a built landscape.

The woods began to change, things became a bit eerie.

There, what's that in the distance?

The makings of a 20th century ruin, complete with fallen timber.

It's the estate ruins of King Zog of Albania. What a title.

This is the the staircase in the lower right of the B&W photo.


The crypt begins to set the stage for the ritual teenage drama that I easily imagine played itself out here over the years -especially in the 70s and early 80s.

And the proof.

The plants (jewelweed?) growing on the lintel is a nice, ruinous touch.

Have you noticed all the English ivy?

Let's get out of here...

Ahh, sunshine, a field. Whew, glad to be out of the woods. This is a typical old field on Long Island. Lot's of goldenrod, not quite in bloom, but also mugwort, poison ivy, asters, some thistle, some milkweed, and some sumac. In season, lots of chirping crickets.

One goldenrod ready to go.

Sumac berries.

I had a ton of photos from this trip and had to restrain myself from adding them all -especially of the King Zog ruins. There was one spot in the woods that smelled so good, I can't quite describe it, but it caught me off guard. I stood there and inhaled, inhaled, inhaled.


  1. Just beautiful! Thanks for bringing us along. And feel free to post more pictures of King Zog's place, it was fascinating.

  2. Thanks! What a name-King Zog!

  3. Spooooky!!! I would've peed in my pants.

  4. what was that underground part? i was there today and didn't see any entrance. then again sandy must have rustled up the grounds there quite a bit.

  5. It was in front of the staircases, a good distance. Seek and ye shall find.

  6. I went there a couple of days ago and so I began my hiking by the equestrian parking area. I did come upon that concrete wall and found the entrance to it but it was too bushy inside and I was wearing shorts. Wasn't sure if there were any poisonous plants inside. Either way, my mission was to find the ruins which I didn't. I followed some trails all the way down to the gates but never did find them. I spent 2 hours hiking in the 90 degree weather we had for friday the 5th of July and with only 1 water bottle on hand, and half way bitten my mosquitoes, decided to call it a day. But, definitly a nice hiking place!

    1. sorry you didn't find it, but surely it's there!

  7. Thank you so much for this wonderful description of the preserve, and especially for the map! I'm planning to go there soon and this post is immensely helpful.


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