March 2008: Hither Hills State Park

 

Montauk, New York
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THE PARK
In 1879, ten years before his death, Arthur W. Benson, of Brooklyn Gas 7 Light and Bensonhurst fame, purchased 10,000 acres of government land around Montauk for a little more than $15 an acre. He envisioned his new lands as a playground for the rich.

A generation later Robert Moses, the visionary New York land planner, saw a different future for Montauk. He wanted a necklace of public parks along the Montauk shores and in 1924 announced plans to condemn 1700 Benson estate acres for the flegling New York State Parks system.

It took a three-year court battle that wound its way to the New York Supreme Court but Moses prevailed. The enduring jewel of his struggle is Hither Hills State Park that stretches from ocean to bay and is the largest state park in Montauk. 

WALKS
For most visitors, Hither Hills is a mile of pristine, dune-backed Atlantic Ocean beach and top-rated campground. With such delights, the 1755-acre park's interior that stretches to Napeague Bay is often overlooked. All the better for canine hikers, who are not welcome on the beach anyway. Miles of informal sandy trails and jeep roads pick through the pitch pine, scrub oak and beach heather.

Of the marked trails, the long-distance Paumanok Path that crosses to Montauk is the most prominent. It can be combined with the Serpent's Back Trail and others to form sporty hiking loops that will delight your dog for hours. Expect plenty of ups and downs as you twist through the pine barrens. Highlights include the bass-stuffed Fresh Pond, panoramic overlooks and the sandy/cobbly shore of Napeague Bay.

Dogs are not permitted anywhere south of Route 27 including the beach and campground but can hike east of Napeague Harbor and south of Napeague Bay.

BONUS
Hither Hills is home to the unique walking dunes - 80-foot high piles of sand that are blown more than three feet each year by the strong westerly winds. As the sand shift they completely bury trees and vegetation, eventually moving on and leaving phantom forests of dead trees. A 3/4-mile trail loops through the dunes and giant bowls for you and your dog to explore the bogs and coastal shrubs up close. Further explorations can take place along the shore of Napeague Harbor and around Goff Point. Parking for the Walking Dunes is at the end of Napeague Harbor Road and is limited to a few cars.

DIRECTIONS 
Parking available on north side of Montauk Point State Parkway (Route 27) at the Hither Hills Overlook, one mile east of the split with Old Montauk Highway.