Last Updated: June 5, 2021 - Contributors: Mindy-B; Andrius-V.
Large wilderness area with many access points; though you need to be familiar with the area. There's no single access point. This is one of the most beautiful places in the pine barrens.
Overall, park is a wilderness with very little possibility for interaction as there is just one trail (the Paumanok Path) bisecting the park. At least this was my experience from the entrance at the corner of Wading River Manor Rd. and David Terry Rd. and River Rd. Forest at times is very dense but for the most part offers many clearings filled with pine trees and shrublands below. A true pine barren. Sounds of LIE could be heard throughout hike but were alleviated by constant bird song. Trail does not offer much to see, more so a nice area just to be in, a forested escape tucked away among neighborhoods. The Peconic river is visible at the onset of the trail.
No signs at trailhead nor anything else related to Robert Cushman or the park. There is unofficial parking nearby but only signs found in area are for Paumanok Path. Lots of vegetation encroaching on infrequently used trail, especially from overhead. At 6’5’’ I had to hike hunched over for the majority of the time, though that did add to the adventurous feel of the hike. Really this place is more of an accessible wilderness than a park and perhaps other entrances offer more than just one lone trail through the woods (i.e., river access, various terrain/flora/fauna). It is clean and pristine and seldom visited and there is not much more that can be improved/changed.
The forest seems relatively young showing signs of fire and it was most likely all farm/agriculture land at some point [Editor's note: Yes there were recent wildfires/brushfires which maintain and co-evolve with pine barren ecology; not sure how extensive and farming as soils poor - i.e., pine barrens name.] Coincidentally, the pines are sparse for the most part with thick impenetrable scrubland beneath. While the variation in the flora was no doubt great, it did not make itself evident due to a lack of blooms or discernable foliage characteristics. Slowly but surely nature is taking back what was once wholly hers. Beautiful prehistoric looking ferns lined much of the trail, making for quite an enchanting (albeit tick-filled) walk.
At the trailhead, the path starts near the Peconic River, slowly but surely trickling west though the water seemed mostly stagnant and had a swamp like look/smell to it. There was no access to the river at this park, shoreline overgrown as it was, though it seemed teeming with wildlife. Frogs would be seen hurriedly hopping back into the water as I approached along the trail. Insects were also bountiful yet surprisingly mosquitoes were not bad at all. At the far end of the trail, after the Schultz Rd. crossing, I reached Jones Pond, where lilies were getting ready to burst into bloom and waterfowl made an appearance.
Robert Cushman Murphy County Park (formerly known as the Peconic River County Park) is connected to other nearby natural areas via the Paumanok Path. Roads create boundaries and cut through the park’s acreage. Calverton Ponds Preserve to the northeast offers a similar natural experience. No corridors or easements run through the park in the area that I visited, east to west between Schultz Rd. and Wading River Manor Rd. Park is pristine, showing no signs of litter and very few if any signs of visitation. Trails are somewhat overgrown and could use some good brushwork, especially overhead.
Unfortunately, very little wildlife was visually observed. Deer tracks and game trails were visible, but no creatures of any kind spotted on this hike. Birds in full song made for a surreal atmosphere in the thick of the woods. Ticks were the worst of any experience that I have had in my whole life. Truly unprecedented. At one point I stopped every 5 minutes to brush dozens off my shoes and pants (overgrown trail perfect for questing). Despite being doused in repellant the ticks did not seem to care one bit, gladly crawling over shoes and pants that had been dripping with tick repellant spray. I could not even find a place to sit and fill out my survey questionnaire without constantly being swarmed. All in all, by the end of it, I removed well over 60+ ticks from my person (and I stopped counting quite early on, so there is no telling how many really).
Needs Followup - 1) How to improve public access? Perhaps maps? Are there any?
2) The Donahue property (260 acres within this park) is leased to the Peconic River Sportsman's Club. A resolution was recently passed to extend the lease, without direct mention of improved public access. But will the updated lease include improved public access? What was the origin of this lease? Was it part of the original transfer agreement?