Natural SelectionJohn Preuss | June 3, 2015 | Comment
Within two hours of New York City lie hundreds of thousands of acres of protected landscape, from small urban spaces like Pete and Toshi Seeger Riverfront Park in Beacon to the massive expanses of Bear Mountain and the Catskill Forest Preserve. Here’s a short list of parks to explore on your next outdoor jaunt.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, along with Mohonk Preserve and Sam’s Point Preserve, is part of the Shawangunk Mountains in Southern Ulster County, just outside New Paltz. Minnewaska is 2,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by rugged terrain, including world-class rock climbing. Wander across stream crossings, peer over cliffs and ledges, trample through hardwood forests and view waterfalls and clear lakes as you make your way across 35 miles of footpaths and carriage roads to hike and bike.
Mohonk Preserve protects more than 7,000 acres of mountain ridges, forests, fields, streams, and ponds in Gardiner. Traipse along one of several carriage roads or trails and access extra routes along the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge. Hikers of all levels will find a pathway they can handle at the Mohonk Preserve. The easiest loop is the 15-minute Shawngunk Sensory Trail.
Walkway Over the Hudson: Stroll, cycle, or run 200 feet above the Hudson River on the former Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge (built in 1888), which was transformed into the 1.28-mile long Walkway in 2009. More than three million people have visited the linear park since it opened to enjoy its unparalleled views of the Hudson River.
Dutchess Rail Trail: This 13-mile linear park stretches from the Walkway Over the Hudson through Poughkeepsie and Wappingers Falls to the restored Hopewell Junction train depot. Winding through a green landscape of dense tree cover and a mixture of new bridges and converted railroad trestles and tunnels, the rail trail—like its Ulster County counterpart, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail—is a secret thoroughfare for nonmotorized locomotion.
Sterling Forest State Park comprises 20,000 acres of nearly pristine natural refuge along the New York-New Jersey border in the Ramapo Mountains. Established in 1998, it is among the largest additions to the New York State park system in 50 years. This unbroken deep-forest habitat is important for the survival of many resident and migratory species, including black bear, a variety of hawks and songbirds, and many rare invertebrates and plants. There are over 80 miles of hiking trails, including 8 miles of the Appalachian Trail and 8.9 mile s of the Highlands Trail in the Park. Hikes range from easy to strenuous with many beautiful views.
If you’re a writer or artist, you may get more work than play done when you visit Poet’s Walk. Created in the 1940s, the landscape is made up of several outdoor “rooms,” all of which are intended to evoke a different emotion. If you’re feeling blue, head to the elation “room”; if you need inspiration for your horror novel, visit the foreboding “room”; and so on. Washington Irving came up with the idea for “Rip Van Winkle” while roaming around Poet’s Walk, so don’t ignore the muses. The Catskill Mountains are within view and guests can spend their time at the Overlook Pavilion or on the meadow trail. Ramble along the byway that leads through the woods, around a ravine and over the stone bridge. There are two miles of trails, all of which
are either gravel or hard packed dirt. Settle into the benches at the Summer House to catch your breath or take in the vista. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars since the woods and fields are chock full of wildlife. Poet’s Walk is on a rotational mowing regime that’s intended to increase the diversity of birds, butterflies, bees and beetles.
Shaupeneak Ridge’s 790 acres of coarse turf, and wildflower grasslands are part of the Marlboro Mountains in Ulster County. There are nine miles of trails of differing difficulties and lengths for hiking and animal spotting.
If you’re hiking with the family, make your way around water lily-adorned Louisa Pond. The adjacent wetland is full of birds and dragonflies. Beaver, deer, coyotes, and turkeys wander around the grounds of Shaupeneak Ridge and visitors can enjoy panoramas of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains.
There’s also a waterfall, pond, forest and interesting rock formations to observe. The farmland at the
base of the ridge is protected so that the scenery will remain unspoiled.