To describe our most recent hike in Manorville Hills County Park, a single word will suffice. FRESH.  Moments after we exited the parking lot and headed toward Trail #5.

Early June, no one in the park but Mark and me. Along with sunshine, we entered the renewal of this Pine Barrens Forest. Fresh new ferns, grasses , mosses, blueberry shrubs,  and the oaks. Gypsy moths were at work. There was evidence on the trails. I found pieces of partially chewed leaves, as well as caterpillars because leaves are fresh and tender.

We hiked along Hot Water Street and turned onto Trail #5. We wanted to find a bench we set up at the top of a valley. Trail #5 has some serious ups and downs. It bisects the moraine in a north-south direction.

I found three mushrooms along the trail. I picked them to bring home to try to identify. Since Mark had a deadline, we decided to turn back not having located the bench. John Burnley had shown us this spot several months ago.

We set off toward the parking lot on the Paumanok Path. I heard a single, throaty note of a yellow-billed cuckoo. They eat gypsy moth caterpillars. I had trouble climbing the steeper hills. I noticed a difference in the east-west trails compared to the north-south ones. The east-west trails are easier. They don’t cross many of the bigger hills so there’s more level walking.

I paid closer attention to the trails on this hike. I noticed pine needles that soften my steps, sandy, packed soil, loose rocks, deep gully eroded trails, narrow and wide. All these varieties make hiking interesting.

It gets very hot here in mid and late summer. We were comfortable, the hot days are just ahead. The best strategy is to hike early or late.

We arrived back at the parking lot. About ten years ago, the open area just north of the parking lot was bare sand. Ken Spadafora, an avid outdoorsman, took it upon himself to plant pitch pine seedlings. The seedlings thrived. Unfortunately, Ken died recently. I will take it upon myself to create a sign honoring  Kens devotion to the Manorville Hills:

THE KEN SPADAFORA GROVE

Ken spent lots of time here. He planted pitch pine seedlings to fill in this open sand area. He led hikes, did trail maintenance, and single-handedly removed a truckload of refuse from the “Hills” for Earth Day, 2008

Back home, I turned my attention to the three mushrooms. It took me an hour just to identify one. Its common name is Panther. The genus/species name is Amanita pantherina. Using my Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, I surveyed the pictures and the text and only at the last minute was satisfied that I had it right. The comments below the description are interesting.“Edibility – poisonous; Rare in the east.There are several verities of this species, ranging in color from white to yellow or brownish; all are spotted like a panther; may fool the unweary; its toxins cause delirium, raving, and a coma like deep sleep”. I studied the characteristics of this mushroom over and over and checked them with the book. It wasn’t until I found the phrase “band like region at the top of the stalk bulb.” I googled this species and found hundreds of images. None looked like a panther. After all this, I still wasn’t 100% sure. The faint but unmistakable band clinched it. Or maybe not. I’ve only one mushroom that I know is totally safe. It is the giant puffball.

We hiked about four miles in two hours. This park is primitive; no bathrooms; no garbage cans; no gift shop. However, it has well blazed trails and there are five emergency north-south trails where a rescue vehicle can get to. Carry a cell phone and tuck pants into socks. I wore gaiters based on John Burnley’s example. Mark found two ticks.

I drove 25 miles to meet my hiking partner, Mark who’s trusty dog Mac faithfully follows close behind.

Tom Stock

Tom Stock has been involved in the Long Island environmental and outdoor education community for decades.

He has published two books; THE NISSEQUOGUE RIVER: A JOURNEY and HIDDEN AGENDA; A POETRY JOURNEY.He has also published many essays and poems in such journals as the Long Island Forum and The Long Islander.