Outdoor life offers winter’s best adventures
By Mary Ann Ebner
With or without a blanket of snow, winter’s fresh air and crisp breezes bring on a hunger to head outdoors. When you’re enjoying family time with children, or simply trying to accept the temptation to step away from work to refresh, winter presents pristine conditions to retreat and enjoy the outdoors.
For Paul Kuznia, director of the Taconic Outdoor Education Center and Fahnestock Winter Park (FWP) at Fahnestock Memorial State Park in Cold Spring, attracting people to the outdoors is his primary priority.
“It’s all about linking people to the outdoors in a positive way,” Kuznia said. “Kids are less connected to the outdoors today, and we especially want to help them connect. It’s a quality-of-life issue for air and resources, fitness and mental health. It’s a big effort to link people to the outdoors in winter time.”
When forecasts promise snow, Kuznia looks forward to welcoming people to FWP (nysparks.com) to enjoy the local Nordic paradise that offers more than 9 miles (15 kilometers) of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and tube sledding.
Trail passes range from $6 to $9, and at modest rates, the facility rents equipment for its winter activities. Its rustic Acorn Café serves up soups, chili, and hot chocolate. The GPS address is 1570 Route 301, Carmel, NY 10512. To stay informed on hours and trail conditions, call 845-225-3998 and follow FWP on Twitter @FWPupdates.
To make the most of an outdoor winter escape in Philipstown or across the region, it’s important to gear up before you head out. The key to gearing up hinges on staying safe and warm, maintaining equipment, and being prepared for unknowns that Mother Nature presents. A short trail hike, snowshoe trek, or even a winter picnic command important planning, and prepping before an outing will maximize fresh air fun.
Jim Hall, executive director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, said the winter season provides a great experience to visitors of its parks. Bear Mountain State Park, located just a few miles from Philipstown, offers winter park amenities to accommodate a wide range of ages and abilities.
“Winter is a great time to visit,” Hall said. “The biggest crowds at Bear Mountain are in the summer and Oktoberfest, and it’s not as crowded in winter. Bear Mountain and Harriman are connected, and you can go forever on more than 45,000 acres.”
Visitors can go forever, but before hikers step on trails, Hall and his rangers want them to be prepared.
“The main thing is to have sturdy footwear and to bring water,” Hall said. Even on the easiest trails, Hall noted that hikers can slip if they’re not wearing proper shoes or boots. From a small loop trail near Perkins Tower on top of Bear Mountain to the Major Welch Trail (2.5 miles up Bear Mountain to take in spectacular views), the park offers a well-marked system of hiking trails as well as a paved walking path around Hessian Lake.
While it’s important to dress properly for cool and damp weather conditions, park visitors should also read trail maps, follow blaze markers, and begin a hike to allow ample daylight time on the return leg down the trails.
Bear Mountain’s winter park amenities also include cross-country skiing when snow falls on the massive stretch of parkland, as well as winter strolling along the Trailside Zoo, and ice skating on its outdoor rink, enhanced by the park’s majestic backdrop.
Skating remains affordable, and with your own skates, you can budget $5 or less per person to skate at Bear Mountain, though the park currently charges $8 per vehicle for weekend visits (bearmountainicerink.com). If you don’t have skates, you can rent them at the rink ($4). If you’re dusting off skates that haven’t been used recently, stop by the skate-sharpening shop for a blade assessment ($5 per pair for sharpening). You’ll pack more pleasure into your outdoor experience when equipment is maintained.
When catching up with friends and family throughout the region, take a spin around a rink near your destination. If leisure plans include a day in Manhattan, plan a side outdoor activity at Citi Pond skating rink at Bryant Park (BryantPark.org). Bryant Park’s winter-season amenities include skating from October through early March, offering free admission. Skate rental runs $14, but if you bring your own skates and a lock for a locker, you can keep this outing on a budget.
The Hudson Valley boasts a number of outdoor rinks and ponds, and one not to be missed is the Pavilion Ice Rink at Mohonk Mountain House (Mohonk.com) near New Paltz. Skating is limited to overnight and meal guests from Dec. 24-Jan. 1, but day guests may skate at other times. Midweek rates of $17 include admission, skate rental and parking. Always call the Pavilion Ice Rink prior to a visit at 845-256-2775, and see their website for weekend rates and other restrictions that may apply.
To refuel, pack up a picnic and share a meal with friends and family. Dining al fresco during winter can be as simple as throwing open the patio doors and setting the table. If you have young ones, bundle them up and send them out to find twigs and pine cones for a centerpiece. Take a ride to your nearest park and put a picnic table to use, or toss a blanket on the ground. If you’re going the blanket route, pack a moisture-resistant camping tarp.
With a little planning, winter picnics can include precooked savory selections of warm soup, chili and stew. Pass a loaf of crusty bread around your circle, and call it a feast. As for cooking outdoors, some parks may be equipped with grills while others allow visitors to bring small grills and portable stoves. Check your park’s guidelines before you plan your menu.
“There are no restrictions on grills at Bear Mountain right now,” Hall said, “but people would need to bring their own grill.”
Bear Mountain provides trash cans, but many parks are carry-in/carry-out facilities. To embellish the fresh air, tote camping mugs and utensils to minimize waste. Bring heated water or milk in a thermal carafe, and let everyone mix their own hot chocolate.
To warm up their outdoor meals, local Girl Scouts have perfected their favorites. Troop leader and community director of the Hudson Highlands Girl Scouts Deirdre Knapp of Cold Spring said that the scouts still love to make s’mores (the classic crispy treat prepared with graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate), but the scouts have adopted bag tacos as their go-to outdoor meal.
“We make tacos in a bag,” Knapp said. “The girls squish up chips in a red bag of Doritos (Doritos Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips large single-serve size). We cook the meat ahead of time, and everyone adds meat, shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and olives to their bags. We use a fork to eat the tacos right out of the bag, and the kids love it.”
Combining a winter picnic with snow may deliver the best element of outdoor fun to ski, sled and make giant snowballs. But with or without the white blanket of powder, winter extends an invitation to venture outdoors.
Winterfest Announced for 2013
Winterfest returns to Philipstown from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13 at the Taconic Outdoor Education Center in Cold Spring. In collaboration with National Winter Trails Day, the event includes interactive programs and demonstrations and is open to the public.
Paul Kuznia said this year’s program will be filled with winter activities with or without snow.
“We’ve been doing Winterfest since 1995,” Kuznia said. “It lets us reach people in our local community and around the region. It’s a one-day event, with or without snow, and if the pond is frozen, we’ll have some ice skating and broom ball. We’ll also present demonstrations from ice fishermen, and Hudson Valley Outfitters will come out with their staff so that people can try on snowshoes. One of our highlights is also a wildlife educational piece.”
Winterfest will also incorporate tubing and crafts and will feature a selection of food and beverages anchored by the center’s Winterfest chili, available in vegetarian and meat variations. Suggested donation for the event is $2 for adults and $1 for children.
The Taconic Outdoor Education Center is located at 75 Mountain Laurel Lane, Cold Spring. For more information, call 845-265-3773 or see the website of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation at nysparks.com.