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Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest: Forget civilization in a place that was once ‘Radio Central’

Today, Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest is a sanctuary of forest and open fields, part of the last remaining wilderness on Long Island. Here, nearly 6,000 acres are threaded by miles of horseback and hiking trails, deep into wildlands where suburban sprawl is another day’s concern.

            But spin the dials on the way-back machine to the last Roaring 20s, and these low-growing woodlands in the town of Brookhaven are a hub of global communications. From 1920 until the 1970s, this land was owned by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and home to the largest field of radio-transmitting satellites in the world.

And then came the Space Age. The bristling 400-foot antennas were made obsolete by earth-orbiting communications satellites, RCA donated “Radio Central” to the state of New York, and the hum and crackle of electricity was replaced by birdsong.

            The churn of technology created Rocky Point park. Trot under a canopy of pines and listen for the ghosts of transatlantic radio messages.

Plan a ride: Within the state forest

are four blazed trails – 19.6 miles

in all – set aside for equestrian use.

The trails cross into the heart of

the forest, intersect and create the

opportunity for loops of varying

lengths and terrain. There is a

handicapped accessible mounting

platform at the Whiskey Road

horse trailer parking area located

at the southern edge of the trail


Field notes: Watch for wildlife as

you ride. Racoons and white-tailed

deer are common visitors on the

trail system. Check the trees for

orioles, woodpeckers and Great Horned owls. Rocky Point is part of the Long Island Central Pine Barrens, more than 100,000 acres of protected public land. It holds a remnant of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecoregion, whose forests might once have covered a quarter-million acres.

Off limits: Horses are not permitted on the hiking trails. To protect the forest, DEC does not allow horses to be tied to live trees. To protect the humans, DEC asks all riders to slow their horses to a walk or halt when they encounter someone on the trail.

Fees:  Use of the trails and all facilities is free, but an access permit is required. Go to the Department of Environmental Conservation website for instructions and an application form.  

The download:  Find a printable map of the Rocky Point trail system at dec.ny.gov/docs/regions_pdf/rphorse.pdf.

Required papers: Proof of a current negative Coggins certificate is required for all horses; out-of-state horse owners are required to produce a 30-day health certificate. Riders must carry their horse's health papers with them at all times.

Nerd alert, history edition:  A secret project housed in Radio Central's building No. 10 became the world's first color television. 

Don’t miss this: OK, it’s about a half-hour

drive due east, but when is the next time

a road trip will terminate at a 20-foot

high, 30-foot long white duck?  The Big

Duck, which is of course what it’s called,

was commissioned in 1931 by a local

farmer who sold ducks and eggs from

the shop in its belly. It’s now a tourism

center for the east end of Long Island and

ranked the No. 1 attraction in the hamlet

of Flanders. Actually, other than a pond

and a swamp, it’s the only attraction.

 Be prepared:  Pack a first aid kit with the basics for you and your horse. Carry a cell phone on you and not tucked into a saddle bag. That way if you part company with your horse – beware of equine-eating giant ducks – you have the phone.