Posts Tagged ‘forest’

Sands Point Preserve

May 24, 2013

I am not sure how I heard about this place, but once I found out there was a castle on the grounds, my interest was piqued. Castle Gould was built in 1902 by railroad tycoon Jay Gould and modeled after Kilkenny Castle in Ireland. His wife did not care for it, so it ended up serving as the stables and servants’ quarters. Imagine that! A castle just for the servants and horses! The Goulds, instead, made their home in a Tudor-style mansion nearby called Hempstead House. Jay later sold the estate to the Guggenheims, who kept it in the family until 1971, when it was willed to Nassau County as a museum site. The grounds are extensive and look out onto Long Island Sound. You can easily see how this estate was considered a gem along the “Gold Coast” of Long Island. Today, there are a number of trails on the grounds and the buildings are still in good condition.

This is Castle Gould, which is now the Visitor’s Center where they hold educational programs. The castle’s limestone facade contains fossils along its surface.  Quite interesting and worth the look!

Sands Point Preserve

One of the trails leading away from the Visitor’s Center skirts the freshwater pond nearby. It is a nesting place for ducks, but we did not see any that day.

Sands Point Preserve

If you keep walking past the pond, you will hit trail #5 – this will take you to the cliffs and beach along Long Island Sound. Unfortunately, the beach is in bad shape right now, possibly from Hurricane Sandy. There are signs not to enter and broken-up concrete litter the entire beach. You should heed the warning because even the stairs leading down to the beach are not safe.

Sands Point Preserve

This is Hempstead House, a mansion containing 40 rooms!  They were setting up for a wedding reception on the day we were there so we could not go inside. Normally, you can go in and look around, although it is not actually furnished anymore.

Sands Point Preserve

I would not say the trails are all that interesting, but at least they are well-marked and easy to navigate. They would be good for families with children.
Sands Point Preserve

The preserve is in Port Washington, Long Island. It takes about 45 minutes by car from Manhattan. Admission is $10 per car. Dogs are welcome, but bikes are not.  There is a third building that is on the grounds that you can visit called Falaise.  It is a Normandy-style mansion on a cliff that is still furnished appropriate to the period. We decided not to go since we were there very early and the tour hours did not work for us. If you are interested in visiting it, you are required to do the tour – tours start at noon and occur every hour on the hour until 3pm. They will pick you up at the Visitor’s Center and drive you to the mansion. Otherwise, you cannot go there on your own. There is a separate admission charge of $10 a person.

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Rockland Lake State Park

May 17, 2013

Through much of the 19th century, Rockland Lake was a hub for ice harvesting.  The spring-fed water was ideal for creating clean ice, and many ice houses lined the lake. Today, people enjoy the lake for other reasons. There is a 3-mile bike and jogging path that circles the lake, with multiple vantage points and benches from which to commune with nature. You can also go fishing or boating on the water. My main enjoyment came from spotting the various birds that migrate here – Canadian geese, swans, egrets, and your run-of-the-mill ducks.

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Geese crossing

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Beautiful birds by the Nature Center

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

 

Rockland Lake State Park

The park is west of the Hudson River in Rockland County – about a 45 minute drive from Manhattan. Admission is $8 per car. Dogs are not allowed in the park during the warmer months.

Fort Tilden

November 26, 2011

Queens lays claim to not one, but two abandoned forts.  The first one that I reviewed, Fort Totten, is in the northeast corner of Queens. The one in this post is in the southeast corner of Queens, in the Rockaways. Somewhat less impressive than the other one in terms of creepiness factor, it is still worthy of a visit because of the beautiful beach close by. Fort Tilden is actually part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Jacob Riis Park/Beach to the east. The fort was built in 1917 and housed an impressive array of large weaponry, including cannons and air defense missiles, to defend the city from attack. Fortunately, these weapons were never used. In 1974, the fort was decommissioned and became part of the National Park Service.

Fort Tilden is open year-round and despite having a nice sandy beach and plenty of folks visiting in the summer, it has no lifeguards on duty. If you are in a mood for a swim, this is not the beach for you. Also, if you like to avoid crowds when possible, like I do, I suggest going here during the off-season, from mid-September to mid-April. During this time, you will be able to park at the fisherman’s parking lot off of Beach 193rd St, on Shore Road, rather than at the lot for Jacob Riis Park on the eastern side of the island.

I do recommend parking at the fisherman’s lot so that you can easily walk to the two historical structures that the fort is famous for – Battery Harris East and Battery Harris West. The trail that leads to the Battery Harris West is across from the lot. This is what the beginning of the trail looks like. You can bring your dog for a walk here and it is also a good jogging trail.

Fort Tilden

Shortly into the trail, you will encounter a large shed-like structure. I’m not sure what this was originally, perhaps a garage for armored vehicles? I don’t recommend going too far inside because of the broken glass.

Fort Tilden

Further on, you will see a monstrous structure looming ahead that looks like spacecraft hiding inside a hill. This is Battery Harris West.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

As you can see, this place is padlocked so you can’t wander around, but if you are set on it, you could probably jump the low fencing where there is a gap in the vertical bars. I don’t recommend it though.

Fort Tilden

Battery Harris East, just a few steps away, looks pretty similar to its sibling. The security on this one is a little tighter.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Some of the graffiti here made me smile.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

There is a large pool of stagnant water in this one and I can only imagine how bad it can be in the summer when it is infested with mosquitoes.

Fort Tilden

Before you head out to the beach, definitely check out the panoramic view of distant Coney Island, Manhattan, and the Marine Parkway Bridge leading into the island. The stairs next to the battery will take you up to the viewing platform.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Apparently there is bad blood between the islanders and day-tripping hipsters. Ha ha.

Fort Tilden

At this point, you will probably want to head to the beach. The trail is just in front of the battery.

Fort Tilden

The thing that struck me right away about this beach is the large number of weathered wood posts clustered everywhere. They go vertically and horizontally across the beach and I guess they may have been part of one or more piers at some point? Notice how clean the sand is. It is very dense.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

The easiest way to get to Fort Tilden is to drive. The toll before you reach the bridge to the island is $3.25 each way.  Like I said, you should be able to park at the fisherman lot during the off-season.  In-season, you will need a permit or you will be asked to park at Jacob Riis Park.

My understanding is that it is somewhat difficult to get here by public transportation, requiring several buses or a transfer from train to bus, then a half hour walk from the bridge. In the summer, the New York Beach Ferry provides service from Friday to Sunday from Pier 11 at Wall St. It takes you to Riis Landing between Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park. The park is open every day from dawn to dusk.

Washington Crossing Park

October 28, 2011

We visited New Hope this past weekend in hopes of seeing the start of some fall colors. We were lucky to have good weather and we did manage to see some changes in color. New Hope lies next to the Delaware River and is a small town that seems to know what a good thing it has going for it. It is surrounded by nature, most notably the huge Washington Crossing Park that is located on both the PA side and NJ side of the Delaware River. In PA, it is called Washington Crossing Historic Park. In NJ, it is called Washington Crossing State Park. For this post, I am treating them like they are one large park with the river running through it. As you can guess, George Washington crossed from one side of the river to the other in the vicinity.

If you are interested in making a day trip of it, you may want to strategize beforehand where you want to go in the park because there is a lot of ground to cover. The park on the NJ side is much larger, but the PA side has a tall tower called Bowman’s Hill Tower with amazing views of the surrounding area.

Bowman's Hill Tower

Bowman's Hill Tower

Before you cross over to the NJ side, take a pause by the bridge for a spectacular view of the Delaware River.

Washington Crossing Park

We did not do as much exploring as we would have liked on the NJ side because it was getting late. Here is one shot I managed to get before the sun set.  This is a great place to have an afternoon picnic!

Washington Crossing Park

If you find yourself with some free time, you may be interested in doing a self-guided tour of the 12 covered bridges in the area around New Hope. We started to do the tour but ended up changing our minds. The Van Sant Bridge below is supposed to be haunted.

covered bridge

If you are interested in seeing New Hope, take a stroll down the canal towpath that parallels the river. It is normally a true canal with water flowing, but due to the hurricane, I believe they put in a dam upriver as they make their repairs. Still, it is something to do if you are in town. A lot of folks walk their dogs and bike down the path.

canal towpath

I do not recommend staying in New Hope overnight. The town itself is very touristy with shops that cater to those who like antiques or are into what I call travel shopping. It is also extremely crowded during this time of year with masses of people waiting to cross the street at every corner.  We visited Lambertville on the NJ side as well and it is less touristy but still very crowded.

To get to Bowman’s Hill Tower, take I-95 to Exit 51. (This exit is between the Newtown/Yardley exit and the Trenton exit.) When exiting the ramp, turn onto Taylorsville Road toward New Hope. (From the south this will be a left turn and from the north a right turn.) Follow Taylorsville Road to Route 532. There will be a traffic light at this intersection. Proceed through the traffic light, remaining on Taylorsville Road. When Taylorsville Road ends, turn left onto Route 32. Proceed 2 miles to Lurgan Road to the tower. Travel time from NYC to New Hope is about 2 hours.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

June 5, 2011

As can be guessed by the park’s name, William Rockefeller (“the” Rockefeller) originally owned the land that the park sits on.  His estate, a 204-room mansion of exuberance, also sat on these grounds.  Over the next 100 years, the land and estate passed down through the family.  In 1983, an ancestor gifted the land to New York.  The mansion is now only a shell, but fortunately for us, the park is well-maintained with many winding trails for birdwatching, horseback riding, jogging, and hiking.

The park is immense and requires some careful planning to explore it.  If you are spending half a day there like we did, you will only be able to see probably a third of the park.  We hit only two of the highlights listed on the park’s website plus a third spot that sounded interesting on the map.

The park’s only lake, called Swan Lake, is close to the entrance. We circled the lake but did not see any swans, unless they were disguising themselves as geese.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

As we walked the trail towards the Eagle Hill overlook, we encountered a number of animals, both domesticated and wild. Several folks on horseback took the trail with us.  You may bring your horses in, but there is no horse rental onsite for the horse-less.  The etiquette in these parts is that horses have the right-of-way.  You, the pedestrian, must stop and let the horses go by first.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

We passed a herd of cattle along the Ash Tree loop.  It is always a joy to see cattle grazing on real grass rather than on modified corn from a trough.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

We were walking along another trail when we spotted a rabbit that had frozen on its tracks upon seeing us.  We froze when it froze, and then it became a game of who moved first.  I did, with my camera!

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

We also encountered chipmunks everywhere.  Most scampered away when we came near, but some continued searching for food right in front of our path!  We jokingly said we could probably scoop up one or more of these stupid ones to take home as pets.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

There were also plenty of squirrels, but they didn’t quite have the same appeal as chipmunks, since squirrels are a dime a dozen in the city.  This one just seemed picture-worthy because its tail mimicked the looping of branches on that tree.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve

We also came upon a few indications of other animals that we couldn’t find.  We think these are woodpecker holes.  We heard them in the distance making loud knocking sounds, but we never saw one.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Here is a large cocoon by a bug that I am glad I didn’t see!

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

The forest was primarily a constant green.  Mossy logs, mushrooms, and the occasional watering hole kept things interesting.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

We made our way up to Eagle Hill lookout, but instead of seeing a panorama of the Hudson River and the surrounding farmland that was promised on the map, we saw a tiny sliver of the Hudson River.   Perhaps the views are better in the winter when the leaves aren’t in the way?  I do NOT recommend doing the loop for this lookout in the spring or summer.

We next made our way to the 13 Bridges loop.  Guess how many bridges we passed?  This is a typical view of the brook that meandered underneath the bridges.

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

By the end of this 2-mile loop, we were exhausted.  We had meant to see the remains of the mansion much further out, but realized the distance was too daunting for our tired feet.  That will be for another day when we return to visit nearby Stone Barns.  We turned around and took a different trail back, where we encountered this interesting underpass.  Does this remind you of the Noguchi Museum?

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Rockefeller State Park is located near Pleasantville in Westchester. The drive from the city takes about 45 minutes.  Click here for directions.  The park is open from 8:30 to 4:30 every day except Christmas.  The vehicle entrance fee is $6 per car.  You can bring your dogs and horses, but no bikes.  Apparently you can go fishing and hunting too, and those require a permit.  In the winter, you can go showshoeing, cross country skiing, and sledding.

Mianus Gorge

March 13, 2010

This is one of the most scenic hikes you will find close to home.  If you don’t have a car, it is worth convincing a friend who has a car to do this hike with you.  The 5 mile round trip hike is of medium difficulty (for a city dweller) and will take you about 3 hours to finish going at a slow pace.  It involves a good amount of uphill and downhill work that requires sneakers that fit snuggly.  When you’re done with this one, you’ll be a bit sore, but it would have been worth it.

There are several colored trails that intersect with each other.  You will definitely need to pick up a map at the start of the trail.  The more scenic route going in is the Green trail, which runs parallel to the Mianus River.

The forest provides plenty of shade along the hike…

…enough so that colorful mushrooms may surprise you underfoot.

This is a very quiet forest with no intrusion of city noise.  You may even find yourself the only hiker in the mornings.  It’s a bit eerie not to see civilization, but you are reminded of it when you see how the trail has been carefully maintained for you and then come upon a stone fence that was built ages ago that has now been left to its own devices.

I would recommend coming here in the fall when the leaves are changing color.  To get here, drive up the Hutchinson River Parkway to CT until it turns to Merritt Parkway.  Take Exit 34 onto Route 104 and drive a bit over 7 miles.  Turn left on Millers Mill Road, cross the stone bridge over Mianus River, and turn left onto the unmarked Mianus River Road.  Go less than 1 mile and turn left into the parking lot.

Hiking is free and so is the parking.  No dogs or bikes are allowed.  For current information on hours, click here.