In some ways, we’re lucky.
It may not seem like it, with many of us isolated. Businesses are closing, jobs are being lost, and we’re all home-schoolers now. But the outdoors is still open.
For those of you who are New York City expats, imagine what this time would be like if you still lived in that apartment with all those roommates who refused to practice basic hygiene and the community garden on the block having been long since bulldozed for apartments. (On a related note, is there a long German word for the opposite of nostalgia?)
Most park facilities, including education centers and restrooms, are closed. But trails and parks are all open, and entrance fees have been waived. Park rangers are still on the job but practicing good social distancing measures, so if you see them, thank them for their service from at least 6 feet away.
My inbox exploded this week with press releases from such organizations as the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and Scenic Hudson, urging me to remind you of the many physical and mental benefits of being outside. As Lori Severino of the DEC said: “Scientific studies show that time outside in nature, especially among trees, significantly reduces stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, improves mood, energy and sleep, and boosts the immune system.”
The obvious problem is that many people are hitting the same trails, crowding Mount Beacon, Breakneck Ridge and the trails at Bear Mountain, which defeats the purpose of social distancing. If you’re all going to be in the same place, they might as well reopen the bars.
We’re here to help. For as long as it’s needed, each week I’ll profile a Trail Less Traveled that is kid-friendly to some degree. For those of us who became teachers’ aides overnight, you’ll find the outdoors is a great way to sneak in some educational programming. Dust off those Peterson’s field guides, and I also recommend the works of Tristan Gooley, particularly The Natural Navigator and The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs.
No guidebooks? Both Binnacle Books in Beacon and Split Rock Books in Cold Spring are doing online ordering, with delivery-via-bike from the former and curbside pickup from the latter. If you don’t have maps, Mountain Tops Outfitters in Beacon is also doing online ordering and local delivery. The DEC has educational resources at dec.ny.gov/26.html.
Or, just go out hiking with the kids for recess. It’s worth asking yourself what you want your children to remember most about this time. I figure that if my son can look back at the disruption as when he got to know and love the place he lives even more, that’s worth more than trying to find a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Trail Less Traveled No. 1
NYNJ Trail Map #103
This one’s a little more than 2.5 miles round-trip, with about 500 feet of climbing. There’s an option for a shorter, flatter hike of about a mile round-trip for little legs as well as adults if you prefer an easy hike because you’re too exhausted from, well, everything.
The trailhead is on Trout Brook Road in Philipstown; the coordinates are 41.480210, -73.859141. The trailhead is to the left of a private driveway, and on the other side of the trailhead is a parking pull-off. (The trailhead is in a residential area, and the neighbors appreciate if you do not park block their driveways or trespass.) Follow the yellow trail markers around the gate and over Trout Brook.
This is a great hike during this time of the year when the trees and bushes are still bare because you’ll be able to see the ruins of old farms off-trail. Soon after you pass through the gate you’ll see a ruined stone chimney to the left and a silo to the right.
After a quarter-mile the trail splits, with an unblazed trail going to the left and the yellow Trout Brook trail continuing straight ahead. If you’d like an easy hike, head left and take the quarter-mile unmarked trail which follows the brook. You’ll find another old stone chimney, some benches for sitting, and down the hill past the benches the ruins of a dam as well as two beaver dams.
Back on the yellow trail, you’ll continue straight ahead for another quarter mile before the yellow trail ends and you’re in the middle of the blue Wiccopee Trail. Hang a left here and follow the trail as it winds and weaves up the pass, sometimes sharply. After 1.3 miles from the trailhead — you’ll know you’re almost there when you pass two chest-high boulders on the left of the trail — a splendid viewing ledge opens up on the left.
The blue trail continues past the viewing ledge, but we’ll stop here for today. The ledge is a great place to stop for a picnic and take in the view of Fahnestock below and Shenandoah Mountain in the distance. And the ledge is wide enough, and large enough, that if another family is already there, there’s still plenty of room for both families to relax together while still keeping your distance.