Many New Yorkers thrive in winter and are eager for falling temperatures and consistent snowfalls. To these hardy adventurers, a few extra layers of gear combined with the snowy terrain of parklands is a winning recipe for fitness, togetherness and outdoor fun.
Welcome the new decade, enjoy the winter landscapes, and unwind after a hectic holiday season by joining a First Day Hike on January 1, 2020.
There are more than 75 such hikes planned at state parks, historic sites, wildlife areas, trails and public lands across the state as part of the 9th annual First Day Hikes program. This map can help find one near you…
Staff from State Parks and DEC, along with volunteers and partners at many sites, will lead these family-friendly walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location and conditions. Remember to dress appropriately and keep this old Scandinavian saying in mind: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
A sample of this year’s programs feature a seal walk, walking history tour, snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, gorge walks, fire towers, and more. If weather conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Many host sites will be offering refreshments and giveaways.
Participants are encouraged to contact the park for information and pre-registration where noted.
And know that you are part of something that is happening all across America. First Day Hikes, which started in Massachusetts in 1992, are now a national event taking place in all 50 states.
Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country on the guided hikes. Numerous others hiked state park trails throughout the day.
If you’ve never been on a First Day Hike, 2020 is the year!
Cover photo: First Day hikers at a DEC fire tower. These hikers are wearing traction gear on their boots, which is important in steep or icy conditions.
It was going to take heavy ropes and safety gear to rescue a 75-year-old man who was hurt and bleeding after falling near the rocky summit of Dutchess County’s highest point — 2,316-foot Brace Mountain.
With temperatures above 90 degrees and humidity thick that July 4th weekend afternoon, crews at Taconic State Park faced a half-mile hike up the mountain to reach the victim, who could not walk after injuring his head and extremities in a fall on a steep trail. Initial reports also indicated the man was on blood thinning medication, which could make his bleeding harder to stop.
Setting out from the trailhead, the crew included myself, members of the local Millerton Volunteer Fire Department, an emergency medical technician, two forest rangers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and members of the Northwest Connecticut Rope Rescue Team. With about 300 pounds of ropes and hardware for the crew to carry, the hike in took about 45 minutes.
Some five grueling hours later, crews had carried and lowered the 125-pound victim hundreds of feet down the mountain, with the help of the stout ropes, a metal basket, and a piece of equipment called a stokes wheel. A stokes wheel is a single ATV tire that clips to the sides of a metal rescue basket, making transportation on rough terrain more comfortable for the patient and easier on rescuers. The victim was then airlifted to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
This is not the first occurrence of this type of injury on this trail. Earlier that year, a hiker had fallen on the icy trail and injured his ribs, requiring rescue crews to carry him out on a stokes wheel. A few years earlier, another visitor fractured his leg while slipping on leaves and was airlifted off the summit of Brace Mountain after being carried by crews for more than a mile to a suitable landing zone.
As park attendance continues to rise, and social media convinces more potential hikers to head for the backcountry, we are seeing an increase in patron injuries and so-called ‘technical’ rescues in our State Parks. Such rescues are becoming more common at places like Taconic State Park and Hudson Highlands State Park in the Taconic Region, Minnewaska and Bear Mountain State Parks in Palisades Region, John Boyd Thatcher in Saratoga Region and Letchworth State Park in Genesee Region.
People fall while taking selfies, slip while wearing
improper footwear, or enter hazardous and closed areas of our parks. Some
patrons fail to dress for the weather, do not bring flashlights or maps, fail
to bring enough water and are generally unprepared to hike some of the terrain
our beautiful parks offer. The mighty cell phone has made many of our patrons
more confident knowing help is only a call away. This false confidence has
started to put a strain on park resources along with surrounding first
responders who are constantly being called to parks for injuries, and search
In order to work better together and streamline
communications between rescue crews, here at Taconic State Park we have started
annual rope rescue drills with local fire departments, forest rangers, rope
rescue teams, park police and other first responders.
The drills include using Incident Action Plans and the
Incident Command Structures we all learn in our classes as park managers. By
drilling, we get to practice putting together planning documents and working
with Incident Commanders who coordinate with park officials on such
emergencies. We gain valuable facetime in a non-emergency atmosphere where we
can dissect our pre-planning and offer each other suggestions and advice.
In late October, staff at Taconic State Park held a
Joint Rope Rescue drill that brought together over a dozen responding agencies
from two states and three counties. The drill was a mock exercise that
practiced communication between different departments, navigation and various
rope rescue skills and strategies.
We also review our rescues to learn not only what we did right but more importantly, where we can improve. One lesson from the July 4th incident is that we will now use staging areas for motorized UTV’s that shuttle rope gear to a pre-planned location near the summit of the mountain so that heavy equipment no longer needs to go uphill with rescuers on foot.
By using motorized vehicles to bring heavy gear above where a rescue has to happen, rope crews only have to carry this equipment downhill, which saves more of their energy for when they reach a victim. It takes a few more resources to do this but ultimately increases the efficiency of getting equipment to the injured hiker.
Also, we have established multiple hoist locations in the area, so if available, a helicopter can save us the time and effort of carrying and building lowering devices with ropes and hardware in the field. This will not always be available, but it is another tool that we can use to make rescues faster and safer.
All parks are required to have an All Hazards Emergency Action Plan. However, some emergencies in our parks require more planning than the normal fire drill or patron with heat exhaustion. Some potential emergencies require park managers to meet with local first responders on a regular basis to enhance the speed and efficiency of their response.
No matter what size the park or historic site, it is always essential to have an open line of communication with the local fire chief, rescue squad and Park Police so that the one day they are needed, they know your face and who you are. It just makes things easier – and ultimately safer – for the thousands of visitors who use the trails in the rugged regions of our State.
Post by Chris Rickard, Park Manager, Taconic State Park
Prepare To Help Avoid Accidents
For a safe hike, there are things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Wear sturdy yet comfortable shoes or boots, and bring water and snacks for the trail. Wear clothing appropriate for the weather.
Be mindful during hikes on steep terrain or that go near cliff tops. Hiking poles can help stabilize yourself against a potential fall, and transfer stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.
In the winter, when snow and ice can cover trails, carry and use traction gear on boots, such a webbed spikes or crampons.
Carry a small first-aid kit in case of emergency. Hike with a partner, so if something happens, help is present. Hiking alone is risky.
Use a trail map, which is available online at each park website at https://parks.ny.gov/ and at the main office at each park, in season. Check the park’s individual website to see if its maps can be downloaded to your iOS Apple or Android device, but a paper map is a good backup in the event of device failure.
For some facilities, data is available as a Google Earth KML file or a map is available to download to your iOS Apple and Android mobile devices in the free PDF-Maps app. Learn more…
Once you have a map, you can tell how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. As days grow shorter in fall and winter, having a flashlight or headlamp in your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.
If issues arise, be prepared to turn around. Don’t fall victim to “summit fever” – the desire to reach the top regardless of the risk.
And, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside during spring, summer and fall, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard. Thankfully, ticks are not normally active during the cold of winter.
With autumn leaves now turned, hiking in the Palisades region of State Parks offers spectacular views of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills to go with a fascinating history that includes an outlaw’s lair, the state’s early iron industry, and a traitor’s secret meeting place.
on the west side of the Hudson River, this region between the Capital Region
and New York City stretches through Rockland, Orange, Ulster and Sullivan
counties, and contains 23 parks and seven historic
with all hikes, there are few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile
phone. Wear sturdy yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and
perhaps carry a camera, to capture what you see. Be mindful of hikes on steep
terrain or that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case
of emergency is never a bad idea
poles are useful, and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees
and legs to your arms and back. And use a trail map, which is available online
at each park website at https://parks.ny.gov/ and at the
main office at each park. Check the park’s individual website to see if its
maps can be downloaded to your iOS Apple or Android device, but a paper map is
a good backup in the event of device failure.
maps include Park facilities such as parking, park offices, nature centers,
campsites, and boat launches in addition to the location, name and distance of
each designated trail in the park. For some facilities, data is available as a
Google Earth KML file or a map is available to download to your iOS Apple and
Android mobile devices in the free PDF-Maps app. Learn more…
For the Palisades region, more information on hikes is also available online from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, and at the bookstore near Exit 17 on the Palisades Interstate Parkway.
It’s smart to know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, especially in fall as days grow shorter, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.
as the incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always
important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only
time spent in your own backyard.
Rockland Lake State Park, 299 Rockland Lake Road, Valley Cottage, (845) 268-3020: The Nyack River Trail runs along the western short of the Hudson River between Haverstraw Beach State Park and Nyack Beach State Park. About five miles long, the level trail offers excellent river views. It is lined with crushed stone, and so is easy on the knees for a run, and also makes for an excellent bike ride or walk with a dog (must be leashed per NYS Parks rules). This trail also passes a county historical marker for the infamous “Treason Site,” where during the American Revolution in 1780 American General Benedict Arnold meet secretly with British spy Major John Andre to hand over plans for the capture of the strategic Patriot fortress at West Point. Thankfully, the plot was thwarted, with Arnold becoming one of the fledgling nation’s most despised figures.
Harriman State Park,
Seven Lakes Drive/Bear Mountain Circle, Ramapo, (845) 947-2444: At more than
47,500 acres, the second-largest State Park has more than 200 miles of hiking
trails. At its northeastern edge, it borders Bear Mountain State Park as well as the
U.S. Military Academy’s forest reserve. To the southwest lies the 18,000-acre
Sterling Forest State Park. This vast park includes a large rocky shelter that
was the remote hideout for a bandit named Claudius Smith, who led a gang
of pro-British marauders during the American Revolution, known at the time by
terrified local residents as “Cowboys.” To find it, go to the parking lot at
the end of Old Johnstown Road, and look for the Blue Trail. Follow this steep
trail to the top of Dater Mountain for its views, and then continue until you
reach the rocky den, which had enough room to shelter both the gang and their
horses. After taking in the panoramic views, which allowed the gang to see
anyone coming, head down on the Tuxedo-Mount Ivy Trail to return to the parking
lot. The hike is a five-mile trip, with one very steep section.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, 5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson, (845) 255-0752: Take in Catskills from atop the Stony Kills Falls at the northwestern edge of the park on this short, but challenging one-mile hike. Start at the parking area at the end of Shaft 2A Road and follow the gravel trail that crosses two wooden bridges on its way to the base of the 78-foot waterfall. Follow a set of stone stairs upward, using iron hand holds and railings for safety, to reach the top of the falls and its sweeping northerly views. You can either backtrack to the parking lot, or connect to the Stony Kill Falls carriage road atop the Shawangunk escarpment to make a longer hike.
Bear Mountain State Park, Palisades Parkway or Route 9W North, Bear Mountain,
(845) 786-2701: Take
in the view of four states and even glimpse the Manhattan skyline from the
Perkins Memorial Tower atop 1,289-foot Bear Mountain. Take the completely
rebuilt Appalachian Trail, which features about 1,000 stone steps along a steep
granite face. It took crews, including members of the New York-New
Jersey Trail Conference, seven years of arduous labor to renovate the 1.5
mile trail up to the top. There is a new wooden bench at one of the lookouts
for those who might find themselves in need of a breather on the way up.
at Harriman, photographers will enjoy the trail to West Mountain that starts at
the Anthony Wayne
Start on the Fawn Trail to the Timp-Torn Trail, which takes you to the mountain
ridge to the West Mountain Shelter. From there, return using Timp-Torn to the
intersection of the Appalachian Trail westbound, which will lead to Beechy
Bottom Road that returns to the main parking area. The moderate hike is about
Sterling Forest State Park, 116 Old Forge Road, Tuxedo, (845) 351-5907: For larger groups
or school trips, there is the Lakeville Ironworks Trail Loop, which takes in
the remains of an iron industry that once dominated the area. At about a mile
long, the easy loop includes views of Sterling Furnace, the Lake Mine, and
other mining remnants. This trail is among more than 30 trails, including the
Appalachian Trail, within a 21,935-acre park in the midst of the nation’s most
densely populated areas.
With more than 2,000 miles of marked trails across New York, the State Parks have something for hikers of every ability. That includes the beautiful Taconic Region, located on the east side of the Hudson River and stretching through Columbia, Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties.
Palatial estates, highland trails, Hudson River vistas and woodland campgrounds define some of the exceptional treasures to be found in a region with 14 parks and eight historic sites.
If you are new to hiking or have not yet explored hikes in this region, named for the Taconic Mountain range that runs north-to-south along the state border with Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, here are some suggestions to start you out.
As with all hikes, there are few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Wear sturdy yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera, to capture what you see. Be mindful of hikes on steep terrain or that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of emergency is never a bad idea.
Hiking poles are useful, and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back. And use a trail map, which is available online at each park website at https://parks.ny.gov/ and at the main office at each park. Check the park’s individual website to see if its maps can be downloaded to your iOS Apple or Android device.
These maps include Park facilities such as parking, park offices, nature centers, campsites, and boat launches in addition to the location, name and distance of each designated trail in the park. For some facilities, data is available as a Google Earth KML file or a map is available to download to your iOS Apple and Android mobile devices in the free PDF-Maps app. Learn more…
It never hurts to know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish it. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve, 125 Phelps Way, Pleasantville, (914) 631-1470: With 55 miles of crushed stone carriage roads that crisscross the former country estates of petroleum tycoons John D. Rockefeller and William Rockefeller, the preserve offers a wide variety of hikes for any ability, with the carriage trails offering a consistent, predictable surface. After parking at the preserve office, follow the markers for Brother’s Path, a 1.1-mile loop around scenic Swan Lake. Heading south on the Brother’s Path, there a connection on the right to the .9-mile Overlook Path, a gentle climb and a good place to spot Eastern Bluebirds and get a beautiful view of Swan Lake. The preserve is home to more than 180 different species of birds and 120 different species of native bees.
Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, 2957 Crompond Road, Yorktown Heights, (914) 245-4434 : This is a short hike in the woods on level terrain leaving to a small pond. From the parking lot for the swimming pool, take the white-marked trail, turning onto the blue-marked, 1.2-mile trail for Crom Pond. At the end, turn around, or continue on the orange-marked, .7-mile Mohansic Trailway through more woods before turning around.
Fahnestock State Park, 1498 Route 301, Carmel, (845) 225-7207: Hike, sunbathe and swim all at one location. Start at the Canopus Beach Parking Lot, where you can pick up the blue blazed AT Connector Trail from the north corner of Canopus Beach. A short 0.3-mile hike passing along the edge of Canopus lake will lead you to the famous Appalachian Trail. Turn right and take the white blazed AT trail northbound. A steep section of trail will lead you to a beautiful viewpoint over Upper and Lower Canopus lakes. Continue north and after one mile on the AT turn right and head south onto another blue blazed AT connector trail. A rolling 0.75-mile hike will lead you back to the Canopus Beach Parking Lot and all the other activities.
Mills Norrie State Park, 9 Old Post Road, Staatsburg, (845) 889-4646: This park has a very scenic hike along the Hudson River. Turn onto Norrie Point Way and follow signs for the Marina, where you find signs for the White Trail. If you brought a kayak or canoe, you can put it into the river there. The White Trail is approximately two miles long and and leads to Staatsburgh State Historic Site, the elegant 65-room country mansion of Ogden Mills and his wife Ruth Livingston Mills. You can choose to take the White Trail back along the river, or the Blue Trail. Along this wooded trail you can view the historic Hoyt House and Carriage Barns. While at Staatsburgh, catch a view of the 148-year-old Esopus Meadows Lighthouse on the river. If you plan to visit by boat, the Mills Norrie State Park marina has 145 boat slips.
Lake Taghkanic State Park, 1528 Route 82, Ancram, (518) 851-3631: Start at the parking lot at the swimming beach, and pick up the white-marked Lakeview Trail, which goes about 5 miles around the lake but is not a loop. It can be hiked as an out-and-back by going either north or south on the trail, which is mostly level and good for all abilities.
Knox Farm State Park (Knox), located in East Aurora, is the former country estate of the celebrated Knox family. Seymour H. Knox, founding partner of the F.W. Woolworth Company, purchased the property in the 1890’s to train Standardbred and carriage horses. The Knox family made significant contributions to the business, educational, and cultural legacy of Western New York and owned the property until 2000 when it was sold to the state. Today the park consists of 633 acres, roughly 400 of which are grasslands and 100 acres of woodlots and wetland areas.
The grasslands provide a unique opportunity to enjoy a diversity of life that cannot be found in many other places in Western New York. Visitors can hike, ride horseback, cross-country ski, or snowshoe through the scenic trails. No matter the season, Knox always provides a memorable experience.
After the winter thaw, some of the most anticipated yearly arrivals to the park are the boisterous bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks. Both bird species only nest in grasslands and can be found in large numbers throughout the park. Bobolinks breeding in Knox may have migrated from as far away as Argentina, making them the longest migrator of any of the New World passerines, or perching birds! Males perform a captivating display flight making a series of buzzes and whistles that sound like R2-D2 from Star Wars.
Female bobolink, photo by Paul Bigelow
Male bobolink, photo by Paul Bigelow
Another grassland representative of the park, the eastern meadowlark, is usually heard before it is seen. They can be found along the trails singing their sweet, lazy whistles from atop a fence post or stalk of high grass. Like bobolinks, female eastern meadowlarks build their nests in a small depression on the ground, hidden amongst the tall grasses. Other grassland birds you may encounter are savannah sparrows, field sparrows, and eastern bluebirds.
While walking the trails you may also encounter a striking resident of the park, the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton), named for the orange and black colors of George Calvert, the first Lord of Baltimore. The caterpillars of these beautifully marked butterflies can be found in wet areas of the park where they feed on white turtlehead (Chelone glabra). However, they are more frequently encountered along the grassland trails where they make use of English plantain (Plantago lanceolate). Adults can be found nectaring on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and other flowers in the designated butterfly meadow.
Baltimore checkerspot caterpillar, photo by Niagara Programs Office
Baltimore checkerspot adult, photo by Niagara Programs Office
A walk through the grasslands of Knox will always yield an exciting surprise. From incredible vistas to the theatrical display flights of male bobolinks, you’re guaranteed to walk away with a feeling of bliss. All trails in the park are easy to walk and some paths are even paved, making them accessible to all. If you haven’t made a trip to Knox Farm yet, be sure to mark it on your list and enjoy this unique and diverse park.