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The grounds of Butler-Huntington Woods hold the key to Long Island’s icy past. Basically an oversized sandbar, Long Island was created during the last Ice Age when rocks, sand and gravel, bulldozed from the north by great glaciers, were deposited as the ice melted and retreated.
The wooded hills and ravines of Butler-Huntington Woods are part of the Harbor Hill moraine, the hilly ridge that marks the place where the ice sheets paused, depositing pulverized materials. The swales between the high ridges cut a natural trail system several miles long through the woodlands. The watershed formed by the glacier-scoured hills and swales once fed water to Mill Creek, which powered a gristmill and flowed on to the Nissequogue River. In 1961, brothers William R. Huntington and the Reverend Christopher Huntington donated the land to the Conservancy.
A striking black-winged red bird, the scarlet tanager is a common species of the eastern forest interior.
The trails are open for hiking and observing nature from dawn to dusk.
The preserve’s ridges and swales are covered with mountain laurel below a canopy of black, white and chestnut oaks, beech and hickories. In places the trail leads through stands of young American chestnuts. These are the struggling remnants of mighty American chestnut trees that once dominated eastern North America’s deciduous forests. You can identify them by their leaves, which are serrated around the edges and 5 to 8 inches long. The American chestnut was stricken by a fungus accidentally introduced into North America in 1904 on imported Asian chestnut trees. Within a few decades, up to three billion of the native trees were killed. New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. As is evident at Butler-Huntington Woods, however, these stump sprouts rarely reach more than 20 feet in height before being felled by the blight.
In spring, woodland wildflowers bloom before the trees leaf out and shade the forest floor. The white or pink blooms of the mountain laurel are among the last to appear, in June.
Butler-Huntington Woods supports many species of birds, snakes and small mammals, including gray squirrel, raccoon, opossum, woodchuck and red fox, as well as white-tailed deer. Look for towhees, wood peewees, scarlet tanagers and wood thrushes in spring and summer. In winter and fall, keep your eye out for white-throated sparrows and juncos on the ground and chickadees and titmice up in the tree branches.
This 67-acre preserve is located in St. James, New York.