Lodge clubs allow overnight stays at Harriman
By Anita Peltonen
Horse Chock Creek. Wee Wah. The Lemon Squeezer. The Valley of Dry Bones.
These are features of Harriman State Park you’ve probably never heard of.
Some Highlanders never get past Bear Mountain and the picnic areas to find the lonelier reaches of its Adirondack-like forests and 200 miles of trails — and overnight cabins, run by various hiking and mountain clubs.
Putnam and Dutchess county residents are rare users of these outposts, but there’s every reason to become active ones. Harriman’s just 30 minutes away, with 50,000 acres to scout. Hudson Highlands State Park has 6,000 acres, and keeps residents of the east bank of the Hudson pretty happy. Eventually, though, some of us run out of trail.
Harriman, on the Crystalline Appalachian vein, has piney, cragged summits, (living) hemlock and laurel copses, silent moss dugouts, primitive lean-tos that serve Appalachian Trail through-hikers, and a preponderance of lakes. There’s ample four-season sports activity (and often more snow there than here). It’s rich terrain for those wanting to expand hiking and birding life-lists.
And there’s the overnight life.
Group lodges depend largely on membership fees. The fees are low, and the getaway experience high enough that some members stop looking for places in the Catskills or Adirondacks once they find a cabin here to join.
Clare McKeen, of New York City, has found hers. “It’s a welcoming environment for an independent and arguably quirky person such as myself,” she said. “I like to enjoy the outdoors and socialize without pretense. Other members are very generous sharing their knowledge and skills, like teaching me how to sail one of the club’s Sunfish!”
And McKeen is happy that “the outhouse scenario weeds out the more high-maintenance types.”
Camp Nawakwa hiking club is quartered by Lake Sebago, Harriman’s largest. The Lake Sebago area has 40 cabins and two cottages. Part of the Adirondack Mountain Club, Nawakwa’s rustic main cabin holds 50 for get-togethers and meals. There are six sleeping cabins, a floating dock and a small flotilla of rowing and sailing boats. See adkny.org.
Thendara Mountain Club, with a double-cabin lodge (six sleeping rooms), screened bunkhouse and swimming and boating docks (boats supplied), sits near a southern cove of Lake Tiorati. It has 300 members, among whom there are great cooks, excellent oarsmen and women, fine birders, stalwart hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Thendara was founded by the Green Mountain Club in 1916.
Today, says Thendara Camp Committee Chair George Hewitt, “we are like-minded people who enjoy the outdoors and comradery through hikes, hosted weekends at our year-round lodge, and planning trips together.”
He adds: “about 30 of us went last weekend to our annual snowshoeing cross-country skiing weekend at the ADK Loj [lodge] outside of Lake Placid.”
A member whose former house had direct access to a state forest sees her club as a “simpler, better home in the woods, but with boats,” and no tax, mortgage or insurance headaches.
There are a couple of membership steps to join Thendara. For casual access, you simply pay the fee. To get keys to the gate at the beginning of Thendara’s long, forest road, you must complete three caretaker tests: furnace/fire safety, boat safety and trail maintenance.
You can come on your own or live large. “Members range from young to old, singles, married, and families,” Hewitt says. “Everyone gets involved on hosted weekends, from the hosts coordinating it to attendees helping out with chores.” For the upcoming weekend, reports the club at its website (thendaramountainclub.com), “gumbo will be served around the roaring fire.
But it is very easy to have the place to yourself on weekdays and in cooler weather. Hanging out on Lake Tiorati is hard to break away from. And on quiet days and nights, you should hear more bird calls, and see the bald eagles that nest nearby.
Fauna, flora and frozen lakes
According to the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Harriman is a bird conservation area whose species include the Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier and Pied-billed Grebe (all threatened), the Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler and Osprey (all “special concern”), as well as the Hooded and Kentucky Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush and Acadian Flycatcher.
Meanwhile, stayover space is set to expand this summer. The Appalachian Mountain Club (outdoors.org) has announced the opening of a new outdoor group-program center at a renovated camp on Breakneck Pond, which will also have hiking, paddling and camping. The center is expected to have space for 140 people and provide a common space for programs, water access and a dining hall.
There may still be time to ice-fish, snowshoe or cross-country ski this winter. Ask a ranger if conditions are safe. And if the ice and snow don’t hold up, then look next for a stunning takeover of the lakesides and lower stories of the forest by mountain laurels, whose sassy snow-colored flowers seem an ideal bridge between winter and spring.