Poet Walt Whitman wrote a letter to the New York Tribune upon returning to his childhood home in West Hills, Long Island:
"I write this back again at West Hills on the high elevation (the highest spot on Long Island?) of Jayne’s Hill, which we have reached by a fascinating winding road. A view of thirty or forty, or even fifty or more miles, especially to the east and south and southwest; the Atlantic Ocean to the latter points in the distance–a glimpse or so of Long Island Sound to the north," he said August 3, 1881.
These days you can still hike the historic Walt Whitman Trail to Jayne's Hill, winding your way through the densely wooded forest with its native flora and fauna including wild Mountain Laurel, Moccasin Flower, several fern species.
When hiking the twisting paths, one might understand why Whitman described West Hills as “a romantic and beautiful spot.” Jayne’s Hill, at 401 feet above sea level, is the highest point on Long Island, it was formed by the Ronkonkoma Moraine by a glacier thousands of years ago. The spot was named after the Jayne family who owned it since the 1800s. Prior to that, it was known as Oakley's Hill, after the previous owner.
Today West Hills County Park offers hiking, youth group camping, picnicking, a playground and meeting hall, bridle paths, dog runs, and Sweet Hills Stables. Sweet Hollow Hall, a former church on the park grounds, now serves as a public meeting hall for several not-for-profit organizations and clubs. Recently, it hosted an indoor farmer’s market. Starflower Experiences, Inc., offers environmental education programs for children at the hall.
The dog parks at West Hills are well known. The large dog run is located next to the stables off Sweet Hollow Road, while the smaller run (under 25 lbs.) is off Highhold Road near the park office.
Another surprising offering is the fact that you can pitch a tent (or use the wooden shelters on site) and have a true camping experience in the woods at West Hills Park — that is, if you’re part of an organized youth group. Huntington Girl Scout Troop 436 has taken of the clean, private campsites twice in the past two years for the experience of sleeping under the stars, roasting marshmallows over the fire and braving rainy weather.
According to troop leader Julie Nace, the best part is being able camp practically in her own backyards. “In the morning one of the parents always runs over to Dunkin Donuts on Route 110 for coffee for the grownups!”
Some helpful phone numbers:
For more information call: the park office (631) 854-4423; stables (631) 351-9168; Starflower Experiences for camping (516) 938-6152; and Sweet Hollow Hall (631) 854-4422.