December 2011: Belmont Lake State Park

Babylon, New York

August Belmont, Jr. inherited the Belmont banking house from his father, from which he helped fund the building of the New York subway. But he is best remembered as a horsemen, serving as the first president of thoroughbred racing’s ruling body, the Jockey Club, and creating Belmont Park. Belmont lived most of his life on his 1,100-acre estate here, nurturing one of America’s greatest racing stables. During World War I, Belmont volunteered in France with the U.S. Army at the age of 65, causing him to disband his legendary stable. One of the last foals raised here was named by his wife in honor of his military service: Man o’ War. After August Belmont died in 1924 the family mansion was used as Long Island State Park Commision Administration Headquarters. It was razed in 1935 for a new headquarters.

The star walk for your dog in Belmont Lake State Park is a pleasing circumnavigation of the centerpiece lake. At a languid pace this trip on the big, curving loop will take you about an hour to complete with your dog. It is all easy trotting on a cinder path, about half in leafy hardwoods and half on open lakeshore. If your dog considers this ramble just a warm-up, duck through a tunnel at the south end of the lake and cross under the Southern State Parkway. The park extends for an additional two miles down a slender strip of open space to Southard Pond, a wilder cousin of Belmont Lake. You’ll find miles of informal foot and bridle trails here, mixed with paved bikepaths. Preserved primarily as wetlands, these trails flood quickly in times of wet weather. August Belmont raised more than horses on his estate. A president of the American Kennel Club for 8 years, he was well known for exhibiting smooth-coated fox terriers. Earlier, he had shown his 8-year old Gordon setter, Robin, in the first Westminster Dog Show in 1877. Two years later Robin died and is buried on the grounds. 

On September 10, 1813, in light winds, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry engaged the British fleet on Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio. Before the day was over Perry defeated and captured six Royal Navy ships, securing control of the Great Lakes for the remainder of the War of 1812. Cannons recovered from British warships in this first great victory by the United States Navy were resurrected from a junk yard and placed beside Belmont Lake by Mrs. August Belmont, Commodore Perry’s niece.

Use Exit 38 of the Southern State Parkway. To reach the southern end of the park, go to Exit 39. Head south on Deer Park Avenue, cross over Sunrise Highway, and one mile further, turn right onto Park Avenue. Turn right into Babylon Village Park.