I’ve been running the Bethpage State Parks’ trails for the last eight years under a training regime that has gotten increasingly intense. Factor in weekly ultimate frisbee games next to the softball fields, and I’m spending around 20 hours a week within the park’s confines. I’ve seen snakes, chickens, and turtles, to name a few. I found 40 dollars on one occasion, and have had tee shirts – taken off and hung on branches during hot days – stolen from me on several others. I’ve lived through a minor attack on one of my cross country teammates, helped find a man’s lost fiancée (and was offered “herbs” in exchange for my services), and had a biker stalk me through the woods (turns out he just liked my form). All these events have led to one realization: nothing really exciting happens in the Bethpage State Park, evidenced by the fact that I can compile a list of my most significant park moments in a matter of minutes. Spend enough time in any setting and you’ll see it at its most unusual, but mostly, you’ll see it at its usual.
Therefore, one of the most important things to know about the enormous Bethpage State Park is where to go. Though it can be entered at hundreds of locations, I usually choose the trails by Charles Champagne elementary school or the main entrance between Powell Avenue and the Bethpage Parkway. From there, you have a few choices, depending on your stamina that day: follow the 13-14 miles of trails that lead to Jones Beach, or head in the opposite direction towards Trail View State Park, and eventually Cold Spring Harbor State Park (a distance of approximately 15 miles). If you’re looking for a shorter run/bike/walk, explore the advanced network of side trails that cut through the park’s many acres of forest.
Don’t worry about getting lost, for the trails have a way of bringing you to park landmarks like the brickyard, where adventurous bikers navigate the steep drops; the polo field, home to cross country races, toy airplane aficionados, and the softest, most level playing field in Bethpage; the newly renovated picnic area, a public place for barbecues and softball (and some nice basketball courts); and, most famously, the golf course (though the Black can’t really be seen from the trails). Some personal advice for runners: choose the dirt trails over the paved paths. Save your knees and explore the park in a deeper way.
Developing a sense of exploration may be the Bethpage State Park’s greatest asset. With its position in the center of a trail system that spans from the north shore to the south shore, it offers more options for its users than any park on Long Island. For runners in particular, that level of choice is important.
Early in my running career, I learned that where I ran was as important as anything – “The adventure is in the journey.” It’s nearly impossible to run long distances when your environment isn’t constantly changing. And for some reason, it’s easiest to run among the trees, which is why I recommend choosing a park like Bethpage over the track or suburban roads. Perhaps you run strictly for business; in that case, maybe the track is the best place for you. But why not at least try the forest? You may find an appreciation for running – and nature – you never knew you had. Come often enough, you may even find me in there and your own list of unusual adventures.
This Article was Written by Scott Bickard.
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