August 2012: David Sarnoff Pine Barrens Preserve

Riverhead, New York

Russian immigrant David Sarnoff learned to operate a telegraph key as a boy and went to work for the American Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, meeting the inventor of the telegraph. Before he was to end his career with the Marconi company and its successor, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) sixty years later Marconi would oversee the invention of radio, champion the development of television, coordinate the communications for D-Day during World War II and log three decades as President of RCA. On April 12, 1914 a 20-year Sarnoff went to work as a wireless operator when the technology was still a novelty. That night he picked up faint signals from the icy North Atlantic of the sinking of the Titanic. He stayed at his post for 72 straight hours bringing news of the disaster to the world. After that all ships were required to have wireless. In the 1920s Sarnoff directed the development of this property as the receiving hub for RCA’s revolutionary transatlantic wireless radio communication network. 

At one time pitch pine and scrub oak barrens covered 25% of all Long Island but today fewer than 100,000 acres remain and these 2,000+ acres are among the largest contiguous swaths of pine barrens remaining. Two canine hiking loops have been carved in the preserve, each reached by a lengthy connector trail, blazed in yellow. The Blue Loop is the shorter of the two circles, about 2.5 miles. Since the acidic soil delays the decay of leaves and organic matter, prescribed burns are necessary to clear the burgeoning tinder box. These burns are evident on the Blue Loop. This route crosses high-speed traffic on Route 104 so that makes thelonger Red Loop more attractive to dog owners. It requires a lengthy 1.25-mile lead-in to reach the Red Loop but your dog won’t complain while trotting the soft sandy trail. You and your dog will need to go single-file on much of this hike that has been routed past kettle depressions and picturesque stands of pines. In some places the huckleberry and blueberry constrain the path so as to brush each leg. This is easy going for your dog, however, with no real climbs, just dips and rolls through the pine barrens.

The antenna farm created by RCA in these pine barrens featured 75 steel towers built 120 feet high. The company removed all traces of the structures before the land was opened to the public but you can still see abandoned antenna fields. They are especially plentiful along the Red Loop.

The park is on Route 104, about two miles south of Riverhead traffic circle. Parking is available in a lot on the west side of the highway.