Upland Sandpiper
Upland Sandpiper Upland Sandpiper © Gary Eslinger USFWS

Places We Protect

Daniel R. Davis Sanctuary

New York

This sanctuary is a great place for hiking and exploring Long Island’s glacial legacy and its rare and fascinating community of plants and animals.

The gate to this preserve remains locked. Please call for the combination: 631-367-3225

As you follow the trail into the heart of the sanctuary, you will encounter a unique testament to Long Island’s glacial past. Eight to ten thousand years ago, when the last great ice sheet retreated, melted waters and strong winds carried the finest pulverized rock—sand—to this middle region of the Island.

Here, the soil beneath your feet is pure, sugar-like sand that extends well below even the deepest tree roots. This sand is nutrient poor and acidic. Because rainfall drains quickly, it is also dry, and over the millennia has been regularly scorched by wildfires.

Although few plants can withstand such challenging conditions, the distinctive pine barrens community of pitch pines, scrubby oaks, blueberries and other acid-loving plants in the heath family flourish here.

The boundary ditches found in the sanctuary were used as surveying lines before the advent of surveying instruments. They were used by 18th-century settlers to mark property lines. Mrs. John G. Erhardt and her brother Charles J.R. David donated the sanctuary’s first 40 acres in 1964. Mrs. Erhardt gave additional land in 1968, 1969, 1975 and 1983. Daniel Davis Erhardt donated an additional parcel in 1988.

The 1.4 miles worth of trails are open for hiking and observing nature from dawn to dusk. The sanctuary is a great place for hiking and exploring Long Island’s glacial legacy and its rare and fascinating community of plants and animals.

Many adaptations necessary to survive in this harsh ecosystem are on display the pitch pine. Like many pine barrens plants, the tree produces flammable oils, waxes and resins that actually help promote wildfires. In fact, a pitch pine will literally explode when resin pockets are ignited during an intense fire. Look for trees with charred bark, evidence of a recent fire. A severe fire will kill the upper branches but only char, not burn, a pitch pine’s thick, insulating bark. Many of the trees have a gnarled appearance, the result of losing and resprouting their crowns following fires. If periodic wildfires did not occur, tall oaks would take over and the pine barrens plants would not be able to survive.

Pine barrens animals have their own strategies for surviving this environment’s dry soil and periodic fires. Look for dirt mounds, which may be places where small mammals and reptiles burrow underground to seek shelter from the forest’s hot microclimate and wildfires. In the pine barrens, you’ll also find moss-like colonies growing on the forest floor. Although these plants are called reindeer moss, they are actually shrubby lichens. If you examine them closely you’ll find that their ashy gray stems look like little antlers.

What you won’t find in abundance at the sanctuary is bird life. Pine barrens lack the ecological variety necessary to support a diverse population of birds. However, this helps maintain the unique ecosystem—birds are important seed disperses, and so their scarcity reduces the likelihood that new plant species will be introduced.