If you were told there could be volcanoes along the shore of Lake Erie in winter, would you believe it? While it may be hard to imagine, Lake Erie does in fact produce volcanoes and Evangola State Park can be one of the best places to see them!
Unlike traditional volcanoes, the ones found at Evangola State Park are not made of rock and magma, but rather water and ice. Ice volcanoes are a temporary outcome of a partially frozen lake. When ice begins to form on the water’s surface, powerful winds push large waves towards the shore. As they do, the water is sandwiched between the shore and the ice, creating a buildup of pressure.
Eventually with nowhere else to go, this pressure causes the water to burst through cracks in the ice. The resulting spray from this burst, freezes on the ice surface, accumulating in the shape of a cone with an open, unfrozen center. With each successive wave, plumes of water erupt from the newly formed ice volcano, building this winter wonder to potential heights of 20-plus feet! Occasionally the ice may build up in the shape of a cone, but without an open center. These rolling hills of ice become so called ice-dunes.
While Lake Erie is one of the best locations to see ice volcanoes, Lakes Ontario, Michigan, and Superior can also produce these icy cones when conditions are right. For example, such volcanoes have also recently formed during the cold snap at Hamlin Beach State Park in Monroe County and Fair Haven Beach State Park in Cayuga County.
Further from home but to the excitement of many, in 2021 a 45-foot tall ice volcano formed in southeastern Kazakhstan as water from a hot spring gushed through a thick layer of ice, creating a massive volcano for all to enjoy.
But also, to be clear, the shelf ice on a lake where these structures form can be extremely unsafe and people are strongly advised against venturing out on it to get closer to ice volcanoes.
Confine sightseeing to the shoreline or stick with a guided tour by a trained Parks naturalist. One such hike is scheduled for Feb. 8 at Evangola State Park. Check with the park to learn if the volcanoes have formed.
As a recent warning from the police department in Halton, Ontario, describes, if someone falls through shelf ice or down the opening of an ice volcano into the lake water below, it can be nearly impossible to get out even if aid is nearby. Cold lake water can quickly induce hypothermia, which can lead to death.
This graphic below illustrates the danger:
Leaving earthly risk behind for a moment, scientists have even been able to detect ice volcanoes from several planets and moons deep in space. Typically called cryovolcanoes, these are defined as volcanoes that erupt with ice, water, or other materials such as methane and ammonia. In 2010, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft found possible ice volcanoes on Saturn’s moon Titan and in 2016 images from the Dawn space probe revealed dozens of ancient ice volcanoes on the dwarf planet Ceres
Back on earth, favorable conditions for ice volcano formation here in New York haven’t been consistent in recent years. Warmer winters have resulted in less ice on all the Great Lakes. In 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that only 2.4 percent of the Great Lakes surface was covered by ice in late January, the smallest amount in nearly 50 years. It was also noted that it was ninth-warmest January on record. While strong waves are needed to form ice volcanoes, strong waves with warmer temperatures will result in their destruction or prevent them from forming at all.
Despite our changing climate, ice volcanoes can still be a common occurrence during the winter months. The biggest change is in their longevity. For example, in the past several years, ice volcanoes at Evangola State Park have only lasted a few weeks or even just a few days after forming, as sudden warm spells take hold and break them apart.
For your best chance to experience ice volcanoes, be sure to keep a close watch on your local weather forecast and head towards the lake shore after a push of cold artic air passes through. To add to the adventure of enjoying these frozen phenomena, our team of environmental educators offer guided hikes all winter long, sharing what makes our Great Lakes environment so unique.
Along the shores of Lake Erie, Evangola State Park becomes a winter sports mecca as the lake’s famous lake-effect snowstorms blanket the park! Lake-effect snow occurs when cold, Canadian air moves across Lake Erie evaporating its open waters and causing intense, local snow bands which can drop one to two inches of snow per hour. … Continue reading Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!→
Getting cabin fever? Well, bundle up and take a trip to a beach-front state park! Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, Long Island parks or the many parks on small lakes: Glimmerglass, Green Lakes, Long Point-Chatauqua Lake, Allegany, or many others. This is the time to explore the many interesting patterns and colors of wintertime … Continue reading Wonders of the Winter Beach→
People love New York’s trails! Did you know that State Parks has more than 2,000 miles of trails across the state? And that merchandise featuring trail markers is among the top sellers at the Parks online store?
More people than ever have been using Parks trails during the past ten years, especially during the recent pandemic, as being outdoors offered safe and healthy recreation when some other venues weren’t available. With so many trails, there is always lots of work to do for our trail crews, staff, and non-profit partners to maintain, improve and expand our network. Let’s take a tour of some of what’s been done recently.
To help find your way on the trail, check out the Parks’ Explorer app for smartphones and mobile devices. Available for both iOS and Android devices, the free app offers a range of useful information, including trail maps and a real-time location function that allows users to easily follow along on the park’s map.
To help support some of its trail work, each year Parks receives funding through the state budget as part of the NY Works capital program. Some of the program’s largest funded trails projects over the past five years include:
$500,000 for the Backcountry Trails Program to repair and restore trails in the Hudson Highlands of our Taconic and Palisades Regions.
$400,000 to restore hiking, skiing, equestrian, and snowmobile trails in Allegany State Park in western New York.
$250,000 to repair stonework and restore the scenic gorge trail of the Finger Lakes Region.
$175,000 for region-wide trail projects in the Thousand Island trails.
Crews working under the Backcountry Trails Program (BCTP) have spent years rehabilitating miles of trail in Hudson Highlands and Sterling Forest State Parks. The program engages AmeriCorps volunteer service members to learn and apply highly skilled trail building techniques from April through October each year.
This past season more than 2,000 feet of trail were rehabilitated and more than 140 stone steps installed on the Washburn and Undercliff Trails in Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley. In the Palisades Region, miles of trail have been added and improved on the very popular multi-use trail system at Sterling Forest State Park. 2022 will mark the ninth year of the BCTP implementing high-quality trail construction projects in our facilities.
The Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP) project has so far assessed 40 trails in State Parks with a goal of identifying those that could be made accessible for persons with disabilities. Funded through a Federal grant, the project completed its third year of field assessments to find trails that meet or have the potential to meet federal standards for accessibility.
Learn more about this project in a previous post on the NYS Parks Blog HERE
On July 1st, the ribbon was cut on the new Nimham Trail in Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve, which was completed in partnership with the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail organization. Named for the last Mohican chief in the Hudson Valley, this new trail allows for an easier ascent and safer descent to the popular Breakneck Ridge – but it’s still a challenge! This new trail has over 600 stone steps and climbs 600 feet of elevation in less than a mile. Images below of the the Ninham Trail show, left to right, new stairs, a trail information map, and a new bridge.
In Clarence Fahnestock State Park Preserve, the Open Space Institute (OSI) broke ground on a sustainable multi-purpose loop trail suitable for hiking, biking, and equestrian use. More than 5.5 miles of new or rehabilitated trail have been created as well as two bridges, four boardwalks, and two turnpikes. As a complement to this project, West Point engineering cadets designed and built a multi-use arched bridge to traverse a mountain stream. This is the fifth bridge constructed in partnership with OSI and West Point on the Hubbard-Perkins project.
Interns from the Hudson Valley AmeriCorps of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) had their annual Patriot Day of Service project at Sam’s Point in Minnewaska State Park Preserve. This two-day project created a new 72-foot section of bog-bridge on the Verkeerder Kill Falls Footpath. The popular trail passes through the globally rare dwarf pitch pine barrens and has seen increased use in the past five years. Pictured below, the bog bridges will help mitigate user impacts by keeping hikers’ feet out of wet areas and on the designated path.
Parks Regional Trail Crews Deliver
In 2021 at John Boyd Thacher State Park, trail crews repaired trail, replaced timber steps, and build rock crib-wall on the area’s most hiking popular trail, the Indian Ladder Trail. In Peebles Island State Park, trails were upgraded with new surfacing material and drainage improvements, as well as new trail markers and intersection signage added for safety. Trails at John Brown Farm State Historic Site in the Adirondacks were overhauled and signage was installed to improve wayfinding.
Crews at Buttermilk Falls State Park installed a 56-foot prefabricated fiberglass bridge and set up high-line rigging to lift the bridge into place over Buttermilk Creek. The new crossing now connects hikers safely from the parking lot to the trail by eliminating a hazardous road crossing. Click on the slideshow below to observe the project…
At Chimney Bluffs State Park, the Bluff Trail leading to the visually stunning bluff overlooking Lake Ontario was rerouted this year after being closed since May 2018 due to safety concerns. This project established a new sustainable trail route away from the heavily eroded bluff edge and constructed 170 timber stairs, multiple erosion control features, and added a 225-foot wooden boardwalk to raise the trail over the forest floor.
More than 680 stone and timber steps were installed at Stony Brook State Park to rehabilitate heavily eroded trail sections at the north and south entrances to the park’s main trail.
More than 700 feet of boardwalks and foot bridges were installed throughout the trail system at Ganondagan State Historic Site to replace worn out sections.
At Green Lakes State Park, the Green Lake Trail was resurfaced and received drainage improvements over the past three years. Crews also completed a full signage and wayfinding upgrade with a total of 316 new trailhead, intersection, and informational signs, all designed in-house and produced at the regional sign shop.
Thousand Island Region
More than 1.5 miles of new trail were added to Keewaydin State Park. Crews also performed seasonal maintenance on more than 16 miles of trails region-wide and constructed new trail structures including:
300 feet of bog bridges at Whetstone Gulf State Park.
Working for the Future
Parks is also keeping an eye on the future for its trails. In our Albany office, planners in the Division of Environmental Stewardship and Planning (DESP) set a roadmap for future trail work through the completion of the Statewide Greenway Trails Plan which was signed for adoption by Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid in April 2021.
With over 2,000 additional miles across New York, these multi-use greenway trails, like the Empire State Trail and others, are a popular amenity and serve as a critical component of both recreation and transportation. The completed Greenway Trails Plan will be a resource for trail managers and advocates to expand the state’s greenway trail network over the next decade.
Whether it’s hiking, snowshoeing, cycling, Nordic skiing, horseback riding, or even snowmobiling, there’s a trail for you in State Parks. See for yourself all the great work done by our trails crews and partners as you get out into nature’s beauty!
Cover Shot: A new bridge built by State Parks trail crews at the Ganondagan State Historic Site. All images by NYS Parks.
Post by Chris Morris, Statewide Trails Program Planner, NYS Parks
Learn more about the many trails in State Parks across New York in our popular “Get Out and Explore” Blog series:
“Can you imagine anything freer and more exciting than when you, swiftly as a bird, zoom down the wood-clad hillsides while country air and spruce twigs whiz by your cheeks and eyes; brain and muscles tense, ready to avoid any unknown obstacle which any moment might be thrown in your path? You are one with … Continue reading Glide Through Winter on State Park Ski Trails→
While the ground may soon be frozen or covered in snow (or not), that doesn’t mean the hunt for a hidden treasure in a state park has to stop.
Through this summer and fall, more than 220 people searching in three State Parks regions found enough geocaches – hidden little containers of trinkets whose locations are identified by Global Position System (GPS) coordinates – to be awarded special 2021 New York State Geocache Challenge coins.
To earn the coins, geocache hunters had to locate at least 45 out of more than 230 concealed caches, with 35 “finds” coming from one of the three regions and the balance from either of the other two regions. Cache-seekers used coordinates with their own GPS devices to locate the caches, and were able to take some trinkets and leave some of their own for subsequent seekers to find.
Altogether, nearly 4,700 people took part in the seasonal challenge, which wrapped up in mid-November and covered 56 state parks and historic sites in Central New York, the Saratoga-Capital District Region, and the Hudson Valley. Odds of finding enough caches to earn a coin worked out to roughly 1 in 20. So obviously, the caches were not in plain sight!
This season, three Parks regions are hosting winter geocache events,
Tthe Saratoga-Capital District Region is hosting a “Winter 33” Geocache Challenge, which will offer 33 “winter-friendly” caches placed in three parks in the region. This challenge will run from Jan. 15 to April 15, 2022. There will no geocoins available during this winter challenge, so it it all just for the fun of it!
In the Taconic Region of the Hudson Valley, the 2022 Winter Geocache Challenge will take place at Lake Taghkanic State Park in Ancram, Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park in Cold Spring, and Mills Norrie State Park in Staatsburg.
And in the Central Region, there will nearly 70 geocaches placed at 14 Parks and Historic Sites, including Battle Island, Fort Ontario, Green Lakes, Chenango Valley, Robert Riddell, Glimmerglass, Hyde Hall, Herkimer Home, Chittenango Falls, Clark Reservation, Old Erie Canal, Lorenzo House, and Verona Beach.
And what might a “winter-friendly cache be? Well, that means the items will be hidden in a way that prevents them from being buried in the snow, such as being hung from tree branches or tucked up under a bench or a picnic table.
To find the caches, download the Geocaching app or follow the coordinates of the caches listed on the Geocaching.com website. When you find a cache, stamp your passport with the stamp inside each cache the turn it in to the state park indicated on the passport. Remember to leave the stamp behind for others that come after you.
Geocaching in winter presents its own challenges of snow and cold weather. Make sure to dress for the weather, with warm clothing, gloves and winter boots. Carrying extra water during the winter is advisable to avoid dehydration. And always carry a flashlight or headlamp, as daylight hours are shorter in the winter.
The geocoins awarded previously are trackables, since each coin carries a unique identifying number that can be activated online and then tracked as coins are located, reported and moved to new locations by their owners or subsequent geocachers. “Owners” of the geocoin, along with anyone else who knows its number, can follow its travels online.
So far, the geocoin that has traveled the farthest from a state park is from the 2015 Saratoga-Capital District Region Geocache Challenge. Most recently located in the southernmost point in the U.S. on the Big Island of Hawaii last month, this token (TB6Y60Y) has so far trekked 190,655 miles to such places as the Mediterranean island of Malta, Germany, the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in India, Japan, Israel, and more than 350 other places.
According to the owner’s page, they want to “travel to at least one state park in each state across the USA.” Now there is a mission that we can all get behind!
I am not stealthy. This is not new information, but I didn’t realize how sloppy I was at sneaking around until I tried geocaching—a worldwide game of locating some of millions of little hidden stashes. This outdoor activity relies on the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, where participants place caches of trinkets, also … Continue reading Seek and You Might Find: Geocaching In NYS Parks→
A century ago this week, thousands of people flocked by car and even horse carriage to remote, wild and forested hills in southwestern New York’s Cattaraugus County, near the border with Pennsylvania, to celebrate the opening of a new State Park.
According to a contemporary account in the local Salamanca Republican-Press newspaper, the visitors to the new Allegany State Park used a roadway that had been quickly built over the bed of a former lumbering railway in the region, which also had been part of the state’s 19th century gas and petroleum industry. With people coming in from as far as Buffalo, parking was quickly filled and some people walked a great distance to reach the dedication site, located near an old lumber camp.
Enjoying a picnic of sandwiches, doughnuts, cookies, coffee, iced tea and “milk in unlimited quantities” as reported by the newspaper, the crowd listened as Albert T. Fancher, a former state senator from the region and chairman of the new park’s commission, vowed that Allegany was poised to quickly grow, with areas nearby suitable for creation of a man-made lake and game preserve.
Another speaker, Franklin Moon, dean of the state college of forestry, said the creation of public parks like Allegany were the best remedy for “national irritability,” as he reflected some of the trepidation in the U.S. over the then-recent rise of Bolshevism in Russia.
Today, Allegany State Park welcomes more than 1,500,000 visitors a year to explore western New York’s premier wilderness playground, created thanks to the vision of Fancher, a petroleum industry executive who was a political force in Cattaraugus County for several decades, as well as Hamilton Ward, a Spanish-American War veteran who later founded the Erie County Park Commission and became New York State Attorney General, and Chauncey Hamlin, president of the American Association of Museums and founder of the Buffalo Museum of Science.
Fancher became the park’s first director until his death nine years later in 1930. Fancher’s original cabin, where he stayed at the park with his wife, is still there. Hamlin supported the creation of a science camp at the park.
Starting out in 1921 with about 7,100 acres purchased for $35,800 (equivalent to about a half-million dollars today, or about $70 an acre), Allegany State Park has grown over the years to encompass more than 64,800 acres and includes rare remaining portions of old growth forest with trees more than 100 years old that were left undisturbed during the area’s lumbering and petroleum boom that ran from the early 19th century to the 1920s. Park naturalists have mapped more than 5,200 acres of old growth forests of hemlocks and hardwoods, with the majority of that in the Big Basin area. Some experts believe this is the state’s largest contiguous track of old growth outside the Adirondacks.
Given the uncertainty of planning during the pandemic, the park is not holding a mass gathering like was done in 1921, but is hosting a virtual celebration on July 30th 2021 that will include a library of digital content. The park is also offering a summer series of interpretive programs highlighting the park’s history.
The virtual celebration and other digital content can be viewed HERE starting noon on July 30, 2021.
Additionally, a set of four self-guided interpretive booklets are for sale at the park which guide visitors to 100 points of interest within the park, and includes topics of interest such as early European settlement, the petroleum and lumbering industries, early ski facilities in the state, and the work of Civilian Conservation Corps crews during the Great Depression.
Now New York’s largest State Park, Allegany has a wide variety of recreational resources certain to foster tranquility and soothe any irritability. Due to its size, this sprawling park is divided into two distinct areas – Red House and Quaker Run. Red House has 133 campsites, 130 cabins, 16 full-service cottages, two group camps, five miles of paved bike paths, many miles of hiking and horse trails, and swimming at man-made Red House Lake, with boat rentals. Its historic Tudor-style administration building, completed in 1928, includes a museum of park natural history
The Quaker Run Area has two lakes, 189 campsites, 230 cabins, 37 full-service cottages, two group camps, many miles of hiking trails and horse trails, swimming at Quaker Lake, a boat launch at the Allegheny Reservoir, which has 91 miles of shoreline and is popular for boating, fishing, kayaking and waterskiing. Named for Quaker missionaries and settlers who came to the area in 1798 at the invitation of Seneca Chief Cornplanter to assist with agriculture and education.
Hikers have a wide variety of trails to choose from, with some highlights including:
Located on the park’s Quaker Run side, the Blacksnake Mountain Trail is one of the oldest trails in the park with a unique history. Parts of the trail follow the 1888 section of A&K Railroad (Allegheny & Kinzua), which is evident in the gentle slope on the north side of the three-mile loop. In 1933, the professors of the Allegany School of Natural History, also known as “the School in the Forest”, (located near Science Lake) mapped out a hiking trail they officially named the “Nature Hiking Trail” to conduct their field studies with their students. It was later renamed “Blacksnake Mountain Hiking Trail” in 1980 after Governor Blacksnake, an Iroquois Indian chief for the Seneca Nation of Indians, who allied with the United States in the War of 1812. The trail crosses several streams with new bridges, and a short steep climb leads to mature black cherry trees estimated to be between 100 and 130 years old. Cucumber magnolia, tulip trees and hemlock are other trees of interest along the way. This is a favorite trail for spring wildflower lovers. Trillium, Dutchmen’s breeches, squirrel corn, and spring beauties are just a few of the ephemerals that announce the changing of the seasons. Near the top of the trail, look for a granite milestone marker which represents the border of New York and Pennsylvania, where you can put a foot in each state.
Bear Paw Hiking Trail is named after a style of snowshoe used by Native Americans and was originally designed as an interpretive snowshoe trail in 2015 by park naturalists. The 2.4-mile trail starts at the rear of the Summit Area parking lot. Look for brown numbered markers which highlight unique flora such as ground cedar, various hardwoods, and lowbush blueberries. Halfway along Bear Paw, at the end of the loop, hikers will be treated to the masterfully built Stone Tower, an Allegany State Park landmark, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934. The tower offers beautiful views of large open valleys, the city of Salamanca and Red House Lake. The second half of the trail traverses the south side of the ridge, through beech and maple forests and into a meadow. Depending on the time of the year, hikers may get to sample low bush blueberries or wintergreen growing in this area. The last section has a short, steep incline that adds a bit of challenge. Bear Paw ends at the Summit Warming hut.
The 5.2-mile Robert C. Hoag Bicycle Path is named after the former Seneca Nation President and was dedicated in June 1990. Starting at the Red House entrance of the park, the path passes old apple trees and large stands of spruce and Scotch pine, along with many varieties of hardwoods, shrubs and wildflowers. The most used part of the path is around Red House Lake, where a 3.4-mile trail offers the potential to spot such wildlife as beaver, muskrat, great blue heron, and many species of waterfowl. Spurs off the trail lead to the Red House Wetland Interpretive Complex, Beehunter Cabin Trail and Camp Allegany. Several benches are located along the way to relax and enjoy the surrounding beauty.
Work on the new Quaker Multi Use Trail began in the summer of 2020 between the Taft cabin and the Quaker General Store. The second phase is in the final design stages and will continue the trail to Quaker Lake Beach. Once complete, the trail will offer five miles of accessible paths winding though woodlands and fields along ASP Route 3 and Quaker Lake, including several scenic crossings of Quaker Run.
For birdwatchers, Allegany State Park contains a Bird Conservation Area, which provides breeding and migratory stopover habitat for forest-interior species such as Swainson’s Thrush, Blackburnian Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager. Of the 75 neotropical migratory songbird species that breed in New York, 64 have been observed within the park. The park supports a large breeding population of Osprey and one of the largest breeding concentrations of Cerulean Warblers found in New York, both of which are state species of special concern. The BCA also provides habitat for other state-listed species, including Bald Eagle (threatened), Northern Goshawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk (all species of special concern). Find a map of the BCA here.
During the winter, the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski Area boasts 26 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. The area is named for an early park forester and ski advocate who later became assistant park manager and worked there from 1928 to 1968, earning the nickname “Father of Skiing” in western New York. For other winter sports enthusiasts, the Quaker Run and Red House areas also have a combined 90 miles of snowmobile trails.
Allegany also was the site of numerous fire towers, where observers would watch for signs of wildfires in the forests. One of those 60-foot towers, built in 1926 at the 2,365-foot summit of South Mountain, was restored and reopened to the public in 2006, and now offers a spectacular view of Red House Lake and the surrounding area.
For another gorgeous view, the Stone Tower, built between 1933-1934 by crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps, stands at 2,250 feet and overlooks the city of Salamanca. On a clear day, the view can stretch for up to 20 miles.
CCC crews also helped establish the park as a regional center for skiing, building a downhill ski center and two ski jumps, which allowed for competitions that would draw thousands of spectators through the 1970s, when the jumps were closed.
Allegany also has a unique geological and natural history compared to elsewhere in the state. The park is part of a geological region called the Salamanca Re-entrant, which is the only area in New York that was never reached by glaciers during the last Ice Age some 12,000 years ago. This gives the region its distinctive soils, topography, surficial geology, and flora and fauna.
The well-known “Thunder Rocks” in the park’s Red House area may appear to casual observers to be some of the massive boulders scattered throughout much of the state by Ice Age glaciers but this unusual “rock city” is actually bits of ancient inland seabed created some 400 million years ago, and revealed through geological uplift and erosion.
Wild turkeys, now widespread throughout New York, owe that comeback to Allegany State Park, the Regional Park Commission, and the Conservation Department. These birds were largely absent from the state by the beginning of the 20th century, due to overhunting and habitat loss, but in the 1940s, a small population of birds had come into the park, likely from Pennsylvania to the south. From the 1950s to the mid-70s, wild turkeys in the park were live trapped by wildlife officials, who used net-firing cannons to safely capture the birds, which were then taken to the Catskills, Adirondacks and elsewhere in New York state to reestablish the birds in the wild. Some turkeys were even sent to other states in the Northeast and to Canada as part of wildlife restoration efforts there.
All this only begins to scratch the surface of the park’s fascinating history and what it has to offer. So, in honor of the venerable park’s centennial and its next century to come, plan a visit to explore. Interactive maps of Allegany State Park can be found here and here.
Cover Shot – A colorized historic postcard of Thunder Rocks in Allegany State Park. All photos by NYS Parks.
Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks
One of the most popular hikes in the Hudson Valley, the Breakneck Ridge Trail at Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve offers spectacular views of the historic river valley from its 1,200-foot summit. The trail is often listed among the best hikes in the region.
But this 4.4-mile trail, boulder-strewn, narrow, and steep, is also physically demanding for even the most experienced hikers. Not advised for the inexperienced or those used to flat trails, this challenging terrain has occasionally led to injured or lost hikers in areas where rescue can be difficult.
In July 2021, a new trail connecting to Breakneck was opened to provide an alternative, allowing hikers unwilling or unable to continue the arduous ascent to instead make a shorter, gentler, and safer return loop down to Route 9D.
Formed with hundreds of hand-set stone steps, the new half-mile Ninham Trail was made possible by Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Inc., a new not-for-profit affiliate of the environmental group Scenic Hudson, which raised the funds to pay for it. The Fjord team includes Hudson Highlands Land Trust, NY-NJ Trail Conference, Open Space Institute, The Lenape Center, and Riverkeeper; four state agencies: Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation, and Department of State; four municipalities: Village of Cold Spring, Town of Philipstown, Town of Fishkill and City of Beacon; two New York metro-area agencies: Metro-North Railroad and New York City Department of Environmental Protection; and three community-based non-profits: Friends of Fahnestock and Hudson Highlands State Parks, Little Stony Point Citizens’ Association, and the Philipstown Greenway Committee.
Hudson Highlands Park Preserve Manager Evan Thompson said the Ninham trail will make hiking Breakneck safer for everyone, since hikers who want a short return no longer will go against the flow of hikers coming up. The new trail also provides hikers a slightly less vertical way to reach Breakneck Ridge. And just as importantly, the trail will also make it easier and quicker for rescue crews to respond to emergencies further up the trail.
Ninham Trail is a source of two compelling tales – first, the story of its rugged construction along the face of the ridge, including more than 540 stone steps handcrafted from the mountain’s own stone, and second, the history behind its namesake Daniel Ninham, who was the last chief of the Wappinger tribe that once lived in the rocky Hudson Highlands of Westchester, Dutchess, and Putnam counties. (His last name has also been spelled Nimham, based on the historical record, but the preferred spelling is Ninham.) Ninham and other Wappingers lost their lives fighting on the patriot side during the American Revolution, but despite that the tribe was ultimately pressured several decades later to relocate out of New York and eventually wound up halfway across the continent.
The native granite of the Hudson Highlands where Ninham once roamed forms the spine of the Ninham Trail, which traverses the face of a ridge to connect Breakneck Trail with the Wilkinson Memorial Trail originating on a Route 9D trailhead. Starting in summer 2020 and continuing to completion in June 2021, crews from the firm Tahawus Trails LLC, of Accord, Ulster County, and the volunteer group Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, of Poughkeepsie, worked to carve out the trail and lay in stone steps and bridges where needed.
With each stone step weighing an average of about 500 pounds, that’s more than a quarter-million pounds of stone, cut in place from boulders near the trail, and moved through muscle power aided by block and tackle, come-alongs and highlines, and set into place, with much of the work done by hand. The steps are a legacy as durable as the mountain itself.
The rugged trail honors the enduring legacy of Daniel Ninham, who was born in the Hudson Valley near Fishkill in the mid-1720s as Dutch and later English colonists were extending their control over Wappinger and other native lands. By the 1740s, Ninham’s Wappingers and a patchwork of members of other dispossessed tribes in that region had gathered in western Massachusetts, in what today is Stockbridge, Berkshire County. Forming a European-style town named after a place in England, the native inhabitants converted to Christianity and were known then as “Stockbridge Indians.”
The Stockbridge community, which also included English settlers, was mixture of Wappingers, Mahicans/Mohicans, and Munsee (also known as the Lenape or the Delaware), such as the Esopus and Catskills, as well as other Native peoples.
As Stockbridge chief (known as a “sachem”), Ninham was fluent in English and tried unsuccessfully to use Colonial courts to regain massive tracts of the lost Hudson Valley lands, claiming deeds had been fraudulently obtained. He later traveled to London in 1766 to make an unsuccessful appeal of the case to British royal officials, who asked the Colonial government to reexamine the case, which was upheld despite disputed and contrary evidence
During the Revolution, Ninham and his warriors, known as the Stockbridge Militia, angered by what they considered these earlier British betrayals after having supported Britain in the French and Indian War and other conflicts, sided with George Washington and the Continental Army, believing that fairer treatment might be obtained from a new government. Militia members served with patriot forces at battles including Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, Valcour Bay, Saratoga, and Valley Forge.
In August 1778 during fighting around New York City, Daniel Ninham, his son, Abraham, and more than a dozen soldiers of the Stockbridge Militia were killed by British and Hessian forces during a battle in what is now Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx. A stone monument to the Battle of Kingsbridge by the Daughters of the American marks the spot today as one of the reminders of Ninham in New York State.
However, the Stockbridge Militia’s sacrifice did little to stop encroachment on their Berkshire County land even during the war, and the tribe, weakened by its manpower losses and pressured by former colonists who had taken some of the land and wanted the rest, moved westward to Oneida County south of what is now Syracuse. As part of that move in 1783 as the war ended, the tribe received a personal letter from George Washington thanking them for their service during the Revolution, calling them “friends and brothers” who “fought and bled by our side.” Washington urged that the Stockbridge “not be molested in any manner” during their journey west. As a gesture to his allies, according to some accounts, Washington also paid for the tribe to have an ox roast at Stockbridge before they left, something that current tribal officials conducted an archeological investigation into in 2019
After moving onto lands provided by the Oneida tribe, the Stockbridge again faced pressure in coming years to move, as land speculators and squatters desired that property as well. Some members attempted to move to Indiana in 1818, but were blocked when the Delaware and Miami tribes, which had agreed to take in the Stockbridge, lost control of the land to approaching colonists. In 1822 after reaching a sales agreement with New York State, the remaining Stockbridge left the state entirely, and moved to Wisconsin, where members currently have recognition as the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.
Numbering about 1,600 members, the group has a 24,000-acre reservation in Shawano County, west of the city of Green Bay. According to the tribal website, there are only “seven or eight” people alive who can still speak the native Mohican language, a consequence of colonization. Tribal efforts are ongoing to keep the language alive by introducing it to this generation.
So, the story of Ninham is a hard tale befitting a hard path for his people, but also a story of a people who have endured despite such extreme hardship. On its website, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band describes itself as a “long suffering proud and determined people (who) … were pushed from the eastern seaboard across half a continent, forced to uproot and move many times to our present land.” As a modern logo, the band uses a stylized representation of “many trails” to symbolize the many trails the people took to reach this present day.
When walking the Ninham Trail, imagine the muscle and sweat it took to build, and also recall its namesake, a man who once walked those hills, lost his homeland as he tried to navigate a perilous path among powerful forces, and who ultimately lost his life and that of his son as his community gave its support to the cause of founding the United States, believing it could give his people just treatment.
Cover shot – The roadside marker to Ninham and the Wappinger in the town of Fishkill, Dutchess County, at the intersection of routes 52 and 82 . (Photo credit – Wikipedia Commons) All photos NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.
Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, New York State Parks.
Hiking Hudson Highlands and the Ninham Trail
We strongly recommend following proper hiking safety guidelines and having knowledge of the conditions you will be facing before your planned hike. For best practice:
● Please stay on marked trails. Walking off trail damages the surrounding ecosystem and is the main cause of lost hikers and injuries. ● Wear proper footwear (such as hiking boots or sturdy shoes) and clothing to match the weather forecast. ● Bring enough water with you, carry a paper or digital trail map, and make sure to leave enough time to complete your hike. The park is open from sunrise to sunset. ● Please note that overnight camping and fires are prohibited throughout the park.
● Find maps of hiking trails in Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve here and here (this second map link shows the Ninham trail, which is designated by the letters NH). Learn about other staff-recommended hikes here.
Learn more about today’s Stockbridge-Munsee by clicking here.