Trails at the preserve, which is cooperatively owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and Suffolk County Parks, are open for hiking and observing nature from dawn to dusk.
Be sure to tread lightly and avoid walking on the pond shores because pond-shore plants are delicate and easily destroyed by trampling. Stay on trails and take other precautions to avoid the ticks that are abundant at Calverton Ponds. Trails lead to several observation points for close-up views of the unique natural communities around three major ponds—Sandy Pond, the largest, Block Pond, which is dry at times, and Fox Pond, which is farthest from the parking area.
The preserve is part of the Long Island Central Pine Barrens Region, a complex mosaic of pitch pine woodlands, pine-oak forests, coastal plain ponds, swamps, marshes and bogs. The forests and woodlands around the ponds are dominated by pitch pine and oak trees, with a shrubby layer of scrub oak, huckleberry and blueberry.
Most of the rare plants are found on the gently sloped shores of the ponds. Coastal plain ponds are not stream-fed but rather dependent on groundwater. The water is nutrient poor, and water levels rise and fall with the water table, reflecting seasonal and annual rainfall patterns.
Periods of both low and high water levels are essential for the survival of the distinctive pond-shore plant communities—periods of high water kill seedlings of woody plants that invade from surrounding pinelands, and periods of low water expose bare ground for seed germination and growth.
Among its many fascinating species are more than half a dozen different bladderworts, carnivorous plants that support themselves in the nutrient-poor water and wet soils by trapping prey with small bladder traps. Among the other carnivorous plants at Calverton Ponds are threadleaf and spatulate sundews, which have leaves covered with sticky hairs that capture insects.
In mid-summer, you will also be treated to the sweet fragrance of Clethra alnifolia, commonly known as sweet pepper bush, growing around the ponds.