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Long Island's Last Remaining Wilderness

by Margaret Bilardello

Sunrise Highway & Pine Barrens near Manorville

Sunrise Highway & Pine Barrens near Manorville

Growing up in the country in Maryland, I was a bit of a tomboy, spending many hours alone walking in the woods, exploring and daydreaming. When I arrived on Long Island more than thirty years ago, I was fascinated to discover the diverse terrain, to learn the island was originally a potato farm, and to witness the beautiful and stately Pine Barrens.

I can't put my finger on when I first saw them; the green and brown expanse hovering along the highway reminding me that everywhere on this earth two worlds converge: the metropolis and the countryside. They got my attention and I marveled at their serene beauty and felt at once at home. And I wondered who had the wisdom to preserve them in an era when development gobbled up our natural resources.

According to Wikipedia, the Pine Barrens encompasses 100,000 acres of publicly protected land and is the last remaining wilderness on Long Island. Wilderness and Long Island; isn't that an oxymoron? It wasn't until 1970 that the state of New York designated the barrens a wild or agricultural land saved from development - a greenbelt. And, in 1993 the Pine Barren Protection Act was created to implement a comprehensive land use plan for the preservation of land, trees, water, wildlife, flora and fauna.

This premier ecosystem is a resilient lot; although wounded by the fire of 1995 that took 7,000 acres of their brothers, the stalwart and determined trees rejuvenated to protect the land they were commissioned to reign over. By 2007, the barrens recovered from the damage it sustained while some vegetation still bears the scars and the memories.

I haven't traveled east in a while, but as spring arrives I hear the sirens in the trees calling me and I must go. If they call you too, Google Pine Barrens and the Pine Barren Society, or just drive out to Manorville and take a walk in the woods.

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