Much of the eastern end of Long Island , from just east of Port Jefferson  to Hampton Bays, is covered by a 100,000-acre pine-barren wilderness. Five times larger than Manhattan , it sits over what is said to be the purest underground drinking-water supply in the state. In its scruffy wooded growth, dominated by pitch pine and scrub oak, are several rare plant and animal species, including unusual stands of dwarf pine.
For many years, the pine barrens were at the center of an intense environmental debate that pitted conservationists against builders and local government officials. In 1989, an environmental group, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, sued Suffolk County for approving building projects in the wilderness area without studying the environmental impact.
The New York State Court ruled that no study was required but said that the state needed to draw up a plan to protect the area. A Central Pine Barrens Joint Policy and Planning Commission was created, and in 1994, they proposed establishing a 53,000-acre core area where building would be banned, surrounded by a 47,000-acre area open to controlled development.
To access a five-mile trail that leads through the pine barrens, head south of the Riverhead Traffic Circle on Route 104 for about two miles and watch for signs. The trail should be avoided during the hunting season, October–February.
For more information, contact the Long Island Pine Barrens Society (P.O. Box 5636, Hauppauge 11799, 631/369-0753, http://pinebarrens.or ). Or, stop by the Pine Barrens Trail Information Center (631/369-9768, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Fri.–Mon. June–Oct.), a quarter-mile north of the Long Island Expressway Exit 70 in Manorville.