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Roads Less Traveled: Discovering local history with North Fork Scavenger Hunts

The North Fork is full of history. Seemingly every road, every street and every landmark has a unique story to tell. Some of those stories are well-known, while others are more obscure—what’s that old jailhouse doing next to Greenport Harbor Brewing’s original Greenport location? Are there really 67 steps at 67 Steps Beach? That blacksmith’s in Greenport sure looks old!  You’d be forgiven for not knowing the story behind every old building from Riverhead to Orient—who could possibly know all that information?

Enter Mike Malkush.

A retired Jericho High School technology teacher and Cutchogue resident, Malkush spent three years from 2014 to 2017 as the president of the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council, and learned a ton about the region and its fascinating past. But history has always been an intriguing topic for Malkush. As the owner of North Fork Vintage Cars, he knows the story behind every swanky vehicle he rents out for photo shoots, events and even commercials and ads. But he also has a library of knowledge about the North Fork, which he has leveraged into another unique business venture.

His new project, North Fork Scavenger Hunts, offers self-guided hunts accessible from your cell phone that incorporate multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions, tasking intrepid searchers with taking photos and videos, investigating local historical markers and solving riddles and puzzles. They provide adventures throughout the North Fork, during which participants can experience the region while learning about the rich history of the area and, hopefully, discovering some new things, too—and find some great photo ops along the way.

Hint: Find something positive to do during a tough time.

67 Steps Beach (Photo: Jeremy Garretson)

Like many bright ideas that have sprung up in recent years, the genesis for North Fork Scavenger Hunts came in the midst of the pandemic.

“This developed a few years ago,” Malkush says. “I was out in Escondido, Calif., during COVID visiting my daughter [Melissa]. I was bored because everything was closed, and I happened to see this self-guided scavenger hunt on my phone.” The notion of having something new to do in the fresh air intrigued him. The hunt’s prompts and questions were all on his phone so he could engage in it whenever and for however long he liked. “I didn’t know much about the area I was in, and after a couple of hours, I was very familiar,” he says. “I even got to interact with locals out there, asking questions [about where to go].”

Malkush’s mini-California adventure left him with the kernel of an idea for a North Fork-flavored scavenger hunt back home, but he assumed it had already been done. “I thought, for sure, somebody would have just taken the ball and gone with it,” Malkush says. “The North Fork is just, as you know, amazing. It has everything. It’s so special out here, and living out here I just started writing ideas for a scavenger hunt.”

While continuing to operate North Fork Vintage Cars, Malkush researched other similar scavenger hunts started slowly developing North Fork Scavenger Hunt, starting with a small test run last year. 

“I slowly rolled it out and got great feedback from people,” he says, noting some of his early hunters were locals who learned something new about the place they lived. Some learned something new about their home area; some shrugged and said the hunt was too easy. With each comment, he learned, tweaked and adjusted. 

Hint: Make it challenging but accessible.

(Photo: Jeremy Garretson)

Malkush crafted a series of riddles and challenges that would be challenging but also accessible for anyone. 

“If someone has never been out to the North Fork before, I don’t want them to be frustrated,” he says.

A challenge that appears in one of the hunts, for example, will be familiar to anyone who’s spent time on the North Fork, but still solvable for newcomers: “There’s something magical in Mattituck.” 

You guessed it—participants are tasked with traveling to Magic Fountain and taking a photo of the mural on the side of the building.

Malkush has developed four unique scavenger hunts so far, with two available and two launching very soon and he estimates that developing them has taken around 100 hours each.

“I wanted it to be really well done,” he says. “It’s putting together the list of where to go, what makes sense for driving, what are the tasks?” 

There are four hunts available: One covering Aquebogue to Peconic, and another from Greenport to Orient. Malkush recently put the finishing touches on a vineyard hunt, as well as a haunted hunt, which will explore various historical graveyards and haunted landmarks on the North Fork.

The hunts have also given Malkush an outlet to utilize his knowledge of local history, peppering in facts about each spot in the questions. 

“I usually have a paragraph that gives you a little history,” Malkush says of each task. “It’s very informative. In two to three hours, they could learn a lot. It might be about the Native Americans, it might be about the 1600s when Southold was settled, it might be about Prohibition in the 1920s and where they used to smuggle in [alcohol]… pirates and Captain Kidd, who was known to have stopped in Mattituck on his way to Gardiners Island. You look at Greenport, the whole pirate scene. People doing this will learn a lot about the North Fork.”

Malkush is particularly excited for fans of the spooky and unknown to try the haunted tour.

“There are so many real hauntings out here,” says Malkush, who was first alerted to the otherworldly when paranormal investigators came to check some historical houses in 2016, that were thought to be haunted. “That left such an impression. There have also been other paranormal [investigators] out here. You go to other places and there’s always a graveyard tour. I’m calling it the Haunted Hunt and Other Oddities.”

Without spoiling anything, there’s some more recent history, too, thanks to Malkush’s own lived experiences.

“I’ve been coming out to the North Fork since the mid-1960s,” says Malkush, who has lived out here full-time for 20 years. “For me, the ’60s was my lifetime, but that’s history to a lot of people! Something that might have been built or done in the ’60s or ’70s … I not only researched it, but I lived a lot of it, too.”

As for the winery tour, Malkush says, “Every winery out here is special. They’re all unique. So what we found is, ‘what is something special about each winery?’ and we picked 20 of them.” 

That tour will include backstory and information about each winery. Without spoiling the hunt’s secrets, you can expect to head to the oldest vineyard on the North Fork.

Hint: Have fun!

Mike Malkush of North Fork Scavenger Hunts. (Photo credit: Jeremy Garretson)

Malkush recommends allotting a long afternoon for a North Fork Scavenger Hunt. Groups of two to five people per scavenger hunt are ideal, since the average car has five seats, but they can also be undertaken solo, similar to what Malkush experienced in California. All the scavenger hunts are pet-friendly as well. 

The hunt is good for 48 hours and at the end, participants are put on an online leaderboard based on how many points they accumulated when completing a task correctly.

Malkush hopes people will gain a new appreciation for the area while embarking on a North Fork Scavenger Hunt. 

“It’s just so special out here,” he says. “The Fork is amazing, you know?”