As the weather begins to lend itself to more opportunities to get outside and enjoy more of the fresh air, it’s time to dust off those New Year’s resolutions. For many, an improvement in fitness may be on the agenda, but getting into a steady workout regimen can be a daunting, often impractical task. If gym memberships, yoga, spin classes, kickboxing and other conventional methods of activity have failed in the past, perhaps the solution is much simpler.
With the help of Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, a nonprofit grassroots organization that has created more than 200 miles of hiking paths, the best way to kick-start your fitness goals could be as easy as taking a walk, particularly a walk through some of Long Island’s most scenic parks and trails.
“Most of the people you find on the trails tend to be there because it’s their form of exercise,” said David Reisfield, president of Long Island Greenbelt. “We have everyone from millennials to Generation Xers to much older people. Personally, I run the trails every day.”
Long Island Greenbelt trails are suited to meet the needs of any walker, runner or hiker, presenting a range of options throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. There are long distance trails such as the Nassau Suffolk Trail (20 miles), the Long Island Greenbelt Trail (32 miles) and the Pine Barrens Trail (43 miles), as well as shorter ones, the most popular being the Walt Whitman Trail (3.8 miles) and the Cold Spring Harbor Hills and Loop Trail (4.8 miles).
These paths, and the many others associated with the organization, are unique in that they are open to the public for use at all dates and times, allowing participants to trek at their own pace whenever is most convenient for them. All listed trails have National Recreation Trails designations, so even when certain state parks are closed, hikers are still permitted to walk through.
Aside from being a healthy and time-flexible activity, the trails within the Long Island Greenbelt system serve as a center of social interaction, bringing together people of all ages and levels of fitness from across the island for nearly 39 years.
“People are just happy to have a place to go to meet like-minded people and get outside,” said Reisfield. “You don’t even have to be a member or make a reservation. Just get out and go.”
There are also guided hikes every Saturday that vary in location from week to week. The hike leaders are some of Long Island’s most knowledgeable when it comes to indigenous plants, trees and wildlife, as well as the specific topography of the region at hand.
The evident community-oriented spirit has been the driving force of the organization, embodied in its very inception in 1978. As described by Reisfield, the start of Long Island Greenbelt was the culmination of the work of a group of “nature enthusiasts” and people who simply loved to hike.
“We live in a fairly densely populated area, but there’s also so much nature that goes unnoticed for the most part,” said Reisfield. “They found their way through the state parks, town parks and county parks, and created trails to link them all.”
What began as a small group united by a passion for nature and the outdoors has grown enormously and been able to function and thrive, but not without the help of dedicated volunteers and members who support the organization both monetarily and through routine maintenance of the grounds. Being that it is a nonprofit organization, all trials, whether guided or not, are always free of charge.
“I think for the most part people are shocked that these trails even exist and are even more shocked that they’re free,” said Reisfield. “We love that people don’t have to be members, they just have to show up.”
The next local hike is scheduled for Saturday, April 8, at 10 a.m. at Welwyn Preserve. It is considered an easy two-to-three mile hike through the Glen Cove preserve, out to the Long Island Sound and back again. Visit www.ligreenbelt.org for more information about the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference and the upcoming guided hikes.