Will Fjord Trail help or hinder?
By Michael Turton
Little Stony Point, the diminutive riverfront park located just beyond Cold Spring’s northern boundary, faces a number of resource management issues. But one stands out — it has become too popular.
Weekend crowds leave the area covered with litter. The parking lot fills quickly, resulting in long, hazardous lines of vehicles parked along both shoulders of Route 9D. A drowning in early September provided a grim reminder of the risk taken by visitors who ignore the ongoing prohibition on swimming. And there are concerns the development of the proposed Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail could make a bad situation worse.
“It is getting so much use it’s detrimental to the entire park, as a preserve and a public amenity,” said James Hartford, a Cold Spring resident who leads the volunteer Little Stony Point Citizens Association. “It’s not a sustainable situation.”
“It’s been loved to death,” observed Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea.
Loss of caretaker
Until last year, a caretaker lived in a house on the site as part of an agreement between the citizens’ association and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. But the agency shuttered the house.
“Losing the caretaker was an unfortunate decision,” Hartford said. Volunteers pick up litter when they can and staff members from Fahnestock State Park clean up five times a week, but even that combined effort isn’t enough. “It’s a big headache,” Hartford said.
The crowds are also driving away residents, he said. “Each summer local residents stop using the park, unless it’s early in the morning to walk dogs,” he said. “The park gets taken over by people who are less invested in the place.”
Hartford said he tries to remain upbeat about the proposed Fjord Trail, “but I think it’s going to bring more people to the park and unfortunately, so far, I don’t see that as being a good thing.”
Shea, who served as caretaker at Little Stony Point after he finished college, sees it differently. “There’s a need for capital improvements at Little Stony Point and along the 9D corridor and the Fjord Trail is the way to get that done,” he said. His optimism, he said, stems from the involvement of major players in the project, from local municipalities and the state to Scenic Hudson and Metro-North Railroad.
He said a 52-space parking lot being created adjacent to the park as part of the Fjord Trail project “will go a long way to alleviate some of the issues.”
Anthony Phillips, a former Cold Spring mayor who chairs the village’s Parking Committee, believes the new lot “could easily be expanded to accommodate more than 100 cars,” pointing out that the site is a former gravel mine and would provide a suitable base.
But Amy Kacala, a senior planner with Scenic Hudson, said doubling the lot size would also double the cost, and funding is not available. Further expansion would also require the approval of the New York State parks office, which owns the land.
Over the winter, the state plans to review the management and operations of Little Stony Point, which covers about 25 acres of the 6,000-acre Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve that stretches from Annsville Creek in Peekskill to Dennings Point in Beacon.
Kacala pointed out that the Fjord Trail project “grew out of local concern for safety conditions in the 9D corridor,” including Little Stony Point. She said that and other issues such as parking, garbage and bathrooms will be addressed as part of the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed trail; work on it will begin this fall and take about two years to complete. The state parks office is acting as lead agency in that process.
A spring barn-raising
The Little Stony Point Citizens Association acts as the park’s steward on a budget of a few thousand dollars annually raised through donations and fundraisers. An admission fee has been suggested to fund maintenance, but Hartford feels “that would really detract from the community feel of the park.”
Even with its limited funds, the association plans to build a barn in the spring at the park to serve as a base of operations. “The need has become more acute now that we’ve lost the caretaker’s house,” he explained. “We have concept approval from the state, and we’ve been working on a grant application.” In addition, Hartford said that a number of local contractors have pledged in-kind contributions.
Hartford hopes the association will be able to expand both its membership and its role at the park. “We’ve been around for 31 years,” he said. “It would be great for us to be more of a caretaker of natural resources, a real stewardship role instead of just managing litter,” he said. That role could include building trails, eliminating invasive species and creating a larger reserve of native plants.
Anyone interested in volunteering at Little Stony Point can email Hartford at [email protected]. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to Little Stony Point Citizens Association, 3011 Route 9D, Cold Spring, NY 10516, or visit the website, littlestonypoint.org for further information.