Saturday, February 7, 2009
Maybe everyone was watching football. The massive, 1200 acre Al Smith/Sunken Meadow State Park was practically empty when I visited on a Sunday morning in January. I too, had plans to watch the playoff games, but kickoff was not until around 4PM, and a return visit seemed like a good idea. Previously, I had walked along the boardwalk that lines the beach here, and learned of a salt marsh that is on the eastern end of the park. At the base of the glacial moraine that rises to the south, is the Sunken Meadow Creek that works its way east, and meets the Nissequoque River, before flowing into Smithtown Bay. The tidal flats and marshes that are north of the creek, form the sunken meadow that provides the park with its name. This is a transitional zone between the freshwater landscape of the inland areas, and the saltwater tides of the Sound. It is a rare day, to not come across another soul at a state park, in the western portion of Long Island. Sunken Meadow is designed to accommodate large masses of visitors. But this particular Sunday allowed me to fully appreciate Walt Whitman's words about "the long, bare, unfrequented shore that I had all to myself." A few birds hiding in the cordgrass, and a rabbit that went scooting by, were the only other visitors I saw. Salt marshes were once harvested for their hay, but in the early 20th century, they were viewed as undesirable land. Before we understood the role these marshes play in the ecological health of our waters, we had filled in a good portion of them. Many of the state parks and beaches are no exception; Sherwood Island, Orchard Beach, and Sunken Meadow were all created by filling in large marshes along the shoreline. Fortunately at Sunken Meadow, this remaining marshland did not become another parking lot, playground, or golf course.