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Long Island Hikes: Avalon Gardens

By Edward Moran
Published on July 19, 2004

Hiking articles:

Avalon Gardens is a privately owned garden and preserve in Stony Brook that is open to the public. It is owned and administered by the Paul Simons foundation in memory of Paul Simons, a local resident and outdoor enthusiast. There is an entrance located next to the pond directly across the street from the Stony Brook Grist Mill. To get there from 25A, make the turn onto Main Street toward Old Stony Brook Village (turn near the Carriage Museum) then make a left past the pond (the Grist Mill will be on the right after the turn).

The property features approximately 10 acres of maintained gardens and paths connected to trails that traverse a larger preserve area, which includes primarily woods and some "abandoned" fields. The Avalon property is approximately 75 acres and combined with the Nature Conservancy's adjacent East Farm preserve, there are trails traversing approximately 130 acres of woods and fields. Frequently, trail maps are available in a box at the entrance to the preserve next to the pond. The recently renovated house just to the right near the start of the path houses the preserve caretaker, but is not open to the public. Apparently it has enough of a museum quality to it to have drawn a number of people to unwittingly trespass.

The gardens are beautiful and very well tended. The landscapers strive to maintain a natural appearance to much of the gardens, interspersed with more formal open spaces that make extensive use of carefully placed rocks and pools in the landscape. The path from the roadway runs along the pond before winding up the hill. There are several areas where one can sit down or stop to enjoy the view, but all visitors are requested to stay on the formal paths. About halfway up the hill the path winds around a series of small pools. Near the top of the hill is a stone labyrinth consisting of flat stones laid out to make the paths. It is a nice place to relax and children may enjoy walking the maze until they reach the center. On one side of the labyrinth is an arrangement of large boulders featuring an intentionally fragmented sculpture of a rock climber.

From the maze a path continues on to the natural areas of the preserve, but not before passing through more landscaped areas and an impressive concentration of Rhododendron that runs along the bottom of a small valley. There is a short wooden boardwalk leading to a rest area overlooking the valley.

To continue into the rest of the preserve, pass through a gate and cross Shep Jones Path, which is a narrow (about wide enough for a single car) but still used country lane. On the other side of the road a trail enters a heavily forested area. This area features the rolling hills and scattered large boulders that are typical of much of Long Island's north shore woods. There are some large trees and in a few locations, noticeable concentrations of beech trees. In the winter, there are limited views of Stony Brook Harbor and the Long Island sound through the bare trees from one of the hilltops. At the border between the Avalon and Nature Conservancy East Farm properties the trails can get a bit confusing, but they are color coded and keyed to the Avalon map (which also depicts the East Farm property).

One theme that has been incorporated in a few places throughout the preserve is the creation of small outdoor "garden rooms" achieved through the placement of large stones in a circle. At least two of these have been created in the open field/ meadow areas, including one around a large solitary old cedar. They may be part of the memorial, or possibly an aesthetic link to labyrinth, which is the center piece of the gardens.

The combined properties are large enough to plan a hike of a few miles, or a perfectly enjoyable short walk through the landscaped area. Access to the gardens and most of the preserve will require negotiating some fairly steep hills, although there may be some other access points from where can be reached some of the meadow areas, which are mostly flat.

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