By Michelle Toussaint and Lei Takanashi
As the winds blew snow, hail and rain, Barney Fortunato started his run for redemption. The memory of dropping off the Paumanok Pursuit, a 43 mile run and relay the year before, chased him. He had been training for this year’s race since New Year’s Day.
“Being in the woods wasn’t that bad, but it made it more challenging,” he said. The hills were steep, Fortunato said.“You couldn’t run and going down it was so steep that if you tried to run it, it would just totally beat up your legs.”
At the end of the 43 miles, the 2016 Paumanok Pursuit, which is just a small portion of the 125 mile Paumanok Path, Fortunato was fourth in the men’s solo run.
“I’m really excited to have finished,” he said. “Especially after not finishing last year, but right now it is just kind of, regathering my wits and my body.”
The third annual Paumanok Pursuit was held in Long Island, NY, last Sunday. The pursuit is a 70K run on the massive Paumanok hiking path, which stretches from Rocky Point to Montauk State Park. The event raises funds for The Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference to help maintain the Suffolk County Park Trail System. The path has been opened since 1982 but is set to be fully completed this April with the completion of a five mile section in Shinnecock Hills, Ken Kindler, the President of the Long Island Trail Lover Coalition, said.
“It is a treasure for this region,” Kindler said. “The thing that just blows me away is that there are no more resources being applied to it because it really needs some tender loving care.”
Although it is a popular trail among runners, the Paumanok path has also attracted unwanted guests. Kindler has dealt with paintball enthusiasts abusing the path and even a man with a shotgun trying to shoot down a mistletoe. But the biggest offenders are ATV drivers, who Kindler says destroy miles of the trail.
“A long segment of what those guys ran must have been torturing their ankles,” Kindler said. “These narrow and ankle twisting ravines [created by ATVS] are not what a trail should be.”
The Paumanok Path and other trails are maintained by non-profit organizations like The Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, which has created about 200 miles of trails and three National Parks. Through events like the 70k run, the organization raises between $25,000-$30,000 per year. They are one of the organizations responsible for the maintenance of Paumanok Path, from Rocky Point to the Shinnecock Canal, David Reisfield, President of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, said.
If it weren’t for an incredible volunteer staff that dedicates up to 18,000 hours per year, keeping the trails maintained would be impossible, Reisfield said.
“Everything from downed trees to trash left behind, on Mondays and Tuesdays, these groups do nothing but remediate,” he said. “This is what keeps it as a nature loving trail.”
Despite the issues of maintaining the trail, runners like ultra marathoner Byron Lane say that the trail is a rare place of solitude on Long Island. It takes about eight hours for most of the runners to complete the 70K run and nearly 12 hours for the last runner to cross the finish line. Lane says what he does to get through these long and arduous runs is simple.
“You dream about whatever you want to dream about; your family, your school, what you’re doing over the weekend,” he said.
“You just let your mind go and just cruise along.”