Exploring Udalls Cove Park & Preserve
Udalls Cove Park & Preserve extends more than a mile from its southern boundary at Northern Boulevard to its northern extent on the shoreline of the open water of Udalls Cove. The southern end of the Park can be seen and accessed from Northern Boulevard west of the 7-11 store, opposite St. Anastasia's Church. Gabler's Creek, one of two freshwater streams that feeds Udalls Cove, passes underneath Northern Boulevard just west of the 7-11 store. It is hidden in a culvert under the roadway, but emerges a few hundred feet north in what is known as the Ravine section of the park. A half mile further north the Creek enters a cobblestone culvert built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It passes under the Long Island Railroad and then enters Aurora Pond, named for UCPC's founder Aurora Gareiss. From there it continues north until it empties into Udalls Cove at Virginia Point, named for Gareiss' collaborator Virginia Dent.
A second freshwater creek enters Udalls Cove from the Great Neck side. This stream has its origins in Lake Success; it can be seen from Northern Boulevard opposite the Leonard's of Great Neck catering hall.
There are a number of access points from which you can enter the long, narrow Udalls Cove Park. Here are some suggestions for visitors who would like to spend an hour or two exploring these remnants of our former natural heritage. Times noted are estimates of the minimum to get some appreciation of the area; you can, of course, spend more time if you wish, and we encourage you to do so.
See the accompanying MAP showing the location of these trail segments.
1. The Ravine - South. [10-15 Minutes.] If arriving by car, park on 244th Street just north of Northern Boulevard. This is the street that runs along the east side of the Zion Church cemetery. Walk east along Northern Boulevard a short distance to the well-marked park entrance on your left. A trail winds through a lovely forest of evergreen and deciduous trees. Most of these were planted in the early 1990's by UCPC volunteers on top of fill that was dumped in the 1960's before the area was designated a park. A couple hundred yards to the north you will reach the end of the fill, where there is a steep drop-off into the Ravine. You'll see where Gabler's Creek emerges from its culvert, although most of the stream's water runs underground here except when it is raining. (You can climb carefully down into the bottom of the Ravine and work your way north along the creek bed, but be careful: there isn't really an established trail there as yet.) The trail at the crest of the Ravine turns left (west) and continues a short distance until it reaches the parking area behind the Douglaston Firehouse. Here the trail turns north, to the right of a split rail fence. The trail now winds first downhill and then up through another restoration area where, from 2004 to 2008, UCPC worked to remove tons of concrete rubble dumped there over 40 years earlier. UCPC also removed dense tangles of invasive vegetation and planted scores of native trees and shrubs. The trail crosses a rock-lined water course which leads into a retention basin; UCPC installed these in 2008 to minimize erosion from stormwater runoff. The trail emerges at the corner of 244th Street and 44th Avenue (now called Church Street), just in front of the Firehouse; your car is parked a short distance to the south (left.)
2. The Ravine - North. [10-15 Minutes.] Drive north on 244th Street to the intersection of 44th Avenue (a/k/a Church Street), opposite the Douglaston Firehouse. Turn left onto 44th Ave. for one block, then right onto 243rd Street (now called Orient Avenue) immediately opposite the entrance to Zion Church). Continue north on 243rd St./Orient Ave. about three blocks to the dead end and enter the Park here. The well maintained trail leads north towards the bottom of the Ravine, with Gabler's Creek on your right. (At one point you will have to duck slightly to pass beneath the trunk of a large beech tree that fell during Superstorm Sandy.) The trail continues north until it reaches the LIRR embankment, where it turns east (right). A few hundred feet further on a footbridge takes you across Gabler's Creek and brings you to the east entrance of this trail, located at the intersection of 247th Street and 40th Ave. in Little Neck. Until the 1960's there were several cottages in this portion of the Ravine in which lived descendants of black settlers, many of whom made their living as oystermen. Their small community of homes was later bisected by the LIRR. The community included a tiny AME Church, now a private home standing near the north end of 243rd St./Orient Ave.
3. Aurora Pond. [5- 10 Minutes.] From Northern Boulevard, drive north on Little Neck Parkway until you reach the grade crossing over the LIRR tracks adjacent to the Little Neck station. Cross the tracks and immediately turn left onto a one-lane, two-way street (no kidding!) called Sandhill Road (also called 39th Avenue). The street takes you down a short hill past a few houses, and then curves towards the right as it passes Aurora Pond (on your left). A short distance after the curve you'll see a red garage on your left, next to which are a few parking spots. There are entrances to the trail network on either side of Aurora Pond, and in between is the picturesque overlook with a nice view of the pond. Watch for herons, kingfishers, ducks and turtles. Trails wind around the pond and through some of the adjacent woods. There is also a trail entrance at the foot of Little Neck Road in Douglaston.
4. Virginia Point. [15-20 Minutes.] This is the section of Udalls Cove Park that affords the most opportunity for exploration. From Aurora Pond, drive back on Sandhill Road to the railroad crossing and make the complicated left turn onto Little Neck Parkway. Continue four blocks to the north end of Little Neck Parkway where you will find a small parking area bordered by a split rail fence. To the west a trail enters the park. A footbridge crosses a small stream, after which the trail winds through woods and marshes, with a number of spur trails and loops. (Note: after a heavy rain parts of the trail are likely to be wet.) There are fine views of Udalls Cove and the salt marsh. You'll see remnants of the commercial marina that operated here until the 1960s, including wooden pilings and a half sunken boat. At the southwestern corner of this section of the park the trail comes close to an interesting "green infrastructure" project completed by New York City in 2014. There is a storm sewer outfall here, through which rainwater enters Gabler's Creek. The City built a "stilling basin" in front of the outfall, so that silt can settle out before reaching the Creek. Between the stilling basin and the creek is a large area of Spartina salt marsh grass planted as part of the project. At high tide most of this area is underwater, creating a lovely tide pool frequented by many birds. The trail has two exit points at its southern end, near the intersection of Little Neck Parkway and 34th Avenue, about a block south of where you parked.
You can retrace your steps, or walk north along Little Neck Parkway to return to your car. But don't stop there. Continue north into the beautiful Virginia Point restoration area. Here the short trail takes you past lovely flowering trees and shrubs planted by UCPC in 2009 (until then this area was an impenetrable tangle of invasive weeds and thorns). You will be rewarded with fine views of the marsh and the open water of Udalls Cove beyond.
5. The Pipeline and the Udalls Cove Marsh. [5-30 Minutes.] Feeling ambitious? Have reasonably good balance? Then here's your opportunity for a bit of adventure. Look to your right from the north end of restoration area described in #4, above. You'll see a narrow opening between a residential hedge and some dense shrubbery, beyond which is an open, grassy area. Walk east a couple dozen yards across this grassy area the backyard fences of several houses will be on your right until you reach a rail fence constructed of old phone poles. Turn left and walk about 20 yards until you reach the water. Now turn right and continue along the shoreline another 10-15 yards until you come to a large iron pipe, about 30" in diameter. This is the outfall pipe from the nearby Belgrave Sewage Treatment Plant (it serves parts of Great Neck and is an extremely well run facility you won't smell a thing). You can walk on the top of the pipe for about a quarter mile. The pipeline crosses the Udalls Cove marsh, traversing several streams and inlets along the way. Provided you're not wearing street shoes you'll have no difficulty walking atop the pipe. Starting in the spring the area is filled with an abundance of wildlife, featuring egrets, herons, bitterns, kingfishers, ducks, geese, swans and myriad other birds. Just east of the end of the pipeline, a few yards from the shore of the Cove, you'll see the 15-foot high osprey nesting platform that UCPC installed in 2004. A pair of ospreys will typically be in residence from late March until late September, with chicks hatching in late May or early June.
6. Osprey Landing. Drive back past Aurora Pond on Sandhill Road, and continue up a hill to where it joins Douglas Road. Continue north on Douglas Road about a third of a mile until you reach the intersection with Warwick Road where you can park. Here there is an entrance to the Osprey Landing trail network on the east side of Douglas Road. The trail has two loops. At the northeast and southeast corners of the trail network are excellent viewing locations from which you can see Udalls Cove, the salt marsh, and the osprey nesting platform which gives this 3-acre section of park its name. This trail network also has an entrance point on the south side of Douglaston's Memorial Field.
7. The Alley Creek Marsh and Another Osprey Platform. [5-15 Minutes.] On the opposite (western) side of the Douglaston peninsula is another area with fine viewing of the Alley Creek salt marsh and Little Neck Bay. There's also another osprey nesting platform here that can be viewed more easily than the one in Udalls Cove (described in # 5, above). This platform was installed by UCPC in 1997, and has been occupied ever since. Ospreys, related to eagles, are large raptors with a 5-foot wingspan that eat only fish. They will typically be in residence from late March through late September. From Northern Boulevard, turn north onto Douglaston Parkway (opposite the CVS store). Continue across the viaduct over the LIRR tracks, pass the Community Church of Douglaston on your left, and then turn left (west) onto 38th Drive. Go straight for two blocks to the T-intersection with 233rd Street. Turn left (south) onto 233rd, drive one short block to the intersection with 39th Drive, and park the car. Opposite the intersection is a section of wooden guard rail. Behind the railing is a trail that leads due west into a wooded area. Follow the trail a couple of hundred of feet to the edge of the marsh and the shore of Little Neck Bay. There are several spots along this trail from which you can look out to your left and see the osprey platform on top of a tall utility pole at the edge of a tide pool. The platform can also be seen from 233rd Street, south of where you parked. Bring a pair of binoculars to catch a good view of these magnificent birds, which are close relatives of the eagle. As with most wildlife, viewing is best in the early or late part of the day; but once the eggs are laid at least one bird will be on the nest nearly all the time. After the chicks are hatched in June the parents will be busy bringing them food. For several weeks before the chicks fledge -- usually in late July -- you'll see them standing in the nest and occasionally flapping their wings as they prepare for their first flight. The large tide pool at the base of the nesting platform is also frequented by herons, egrets, ducks, geese, swans, and a variety of shore birds.
Last modified: 11/29/15