Tag Archives: rockefeller state park preserve

King of the Road at Rockefeller State Park Preserve

The words John D. Rockefeller and “Do It Yourself” might not naturally come to mind in the same sentence.

But visitors to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve – the former Hudson Valley family estate of petroleum magnate John D. Rockfeller, who was one of the 20th century’s richest men – will see one of this state’s most ambitious DIY projects.

The preserve is part of the 3,000-acre the Rockefeller Pocantico Hills Estate Historic District, recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, which is honeycombed by more than 55 miles of historic “carriage” roads that gracefully showcase its woodlands, vistas and the river valley.

Near the start of the 20th century, many miles of these roads _ and the picturesque views each step of the way _ were envisioned and laid out on foot by “Old John D” as he was known by neighbors at the time. He passed along his passion for road building to his son, John Jr., who completed and enhanced his father’s vision for the extensive network into the 1930s.

As the head of the Standard Oil conglomerate, Rockefeller was fabulously wealthy, and could have hired any engineer he wished to create the road network for the Westchester Country country estate where he, and his brother William, were to each have luxurious mansions.

John D. Rockefeller St. (Photo Credit- Oscar White/Wikipedia Commons)

But Rockefeller knew what he wanted his roads look like and where they ought to be, so he did it himself, traipsing around the woods with his surveyor’s tools to get it just right.

And he wanted the roads to be suitable for travel in a horse and carriage, which is how he wished to tour the estate. That meant roads with crushed stone surfaces, gentle grades and good drainage to prevent erosion.

In the nominating form for listing the site on the State and National Historic Register, State Parks researcher William Krattinger located some of Rockefeller’s own words recalling his road work..

“I have spent many delightful hours studying the beautiful views, the trees and the final landscape effects of that very interesting section of the Hudson River … I had the advantage of knowing every foot of the land, all the big old trees were personal friends of mine, and with the views at any given point, I was perfectly familiar.”

“In a few days, I had worked out a plan so devised that the roads caught just the best views at just the angles where in driving up the hill, you came upon impressive outlooks and the ending was the final burst of river, hill, cloud and great sweep in country to crown the whole; and here I fixed my stakes to show where I suggested the roads should run.”

Roberts, Ann Rockefeller (1990) Mr. Rockefeller’s Roads: The Untold Story of Acadia’s Carriage Roads & Their Creator
There are miles of carriage roads at Rockefeller State Park Preserve surveyed and laid out by industrialist John D Rockefeller Sr. at the turn of the 20th century. (Photo Credit- NYS Parks)




A contemporary newspaper account in the Dec. 31, 1904 edition of the Utica Journal also expressed admiration for Rockefeller’s skill as a surveyor and road builder:

“With only an assistant to carry the transit and hold the rod, the old man (Rockefeller was 65 at the time of the article) has trampled all over his vast estate on the Pocantico Hills and has made his own surveys for the huge park which he is laying out there.”

“More than this, he has shown himself to be an expert road builder. When all the roads he has mapped out are completed they will stretch for nearly 40 miles and “Old John D.,” as the whole countryside calls him, has planned every foot of them himself. Landscape gardeners and civil engineers alike agree that, whether from the viewpoint of artistic effect or mere utility, the work could not have been better done.”

The roads themselves, of course, were built by hired workers following the Rockefeller’s routes.

A carriage road passes along a meadow. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

The carriage roads are a favorite of equestrians. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

Rockefeller’s vision for his estate was also different from that of many opulent estates of his day, in that he did not want an elaborately designed, geometrically landscaped estate of exotic or imported plants.

Rather, Rockefeller wanted to showcase the natural beauty of the land, sky and river valley.

As described by Bill Krattinger: “The outer estate landscape of the Pocantico Hills estate was not designed, in the formal sense, but was instead “culled back” to reveal or otherwise highlight what were deemed to be the most desirable existing features and views … it might more properly be defined as a refined or culled landscape, in that its creation was not so much a process of introducing new plant and tree material and adding or modifying topographic features, but instead one of honing the existing landscape’s natural features to bring to the forefront those characteristics which were deemed to be the most desirable and beautiful.”

Rockefeller’s work was picked up and continued by his son, John Jr., whose instincts for landscape design and road building were as sharp as his father’s, so much that John Jr. was bestowed with an honorary membership in the American Society of Landscape Architects in the late 1930s.

Long popular for walking, riding, jogging, and carriage driving, the trails lead through varied landscapes and past natural and historical features, such as Swan Lake, the Pocantico River with its wood and stone bridges, gurgling streams, colonial stone walls and rock outcroppings.

The Park Preserve occupies about 1,700 acres in this district, with the rest privately held.

So, come experience the beautiful carriage roads here at Rockefeller State Park Preserve as the fall leaves turn color, and as you take in the views, imagine one of the country’s richest men, happily tramping through his woods and envisioning what you now enjoy today.

For a trail map, click HERE.


Cover Shot- Walking the carriage trails at Rockefeller State Park Preserve (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks

Glide Through Winter on State Park Ski Trails

“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 your skis and nature. This is something that develops not only the body but the soul as well, and it has a deeper meaning for a people than most of us perceive.”

Fridtjof Nansen – Norwegian explorer, scientist, humanitarian and advocate for cross-country skiing, 1890

The use of skis to cross winter terrain dates back millennia, with the oldest-known image of a person on skis carved about 5,000 years ago into the rock of a Norwegian island.

When winter graces the state with snow, State Parks are a great place to enjoy cross-country skiing, with many miles of ski trails for all abilities, from beginner to expert across 104 state parks and eight historic sites spanning the state.

Known in shorthand as XC (or also as Nordic) skiing, this family-friendly sport is a full-body, low-impact cardio workout as well as a wonderful way to get outdoors during winter to see how beautiful the season can be. Skiing is quiet as well, so skiers often have a chance to spot wildlife (and also get a close look at its tracks) that has not been scared off by their approach.

A 1938 poster by the Works Progress Administration promotes cross-country skiing in New York State. (Photo Credit-Wikipedia Commons)

After a promising December start for XC skiing, this season has suffered from a dearth of snow. Perhaps a snowstorm or two is still to come before spring, or if not, this list can be held until the start of next season. Always call ahead to check on snow conditions.

This online map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also is a handy tool for getting a picture of snow cover across the state when planning a ski trip.

Either way, to help decide where to go in State Parks when conditions allow, here are some staff favorites. Check each park’s website for a map of their trails:

Allegany Region

With 24 miles of trails, the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski Area at Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, offers some of best groomed skiing in western New York. Novices can try the 3.5-mile Christian Hollow Trail, a loop with gentle grades, or the multi-use, 3.5-mile Red House Bike Path.

Intermediate skiers can try the 3.3-mile Patterson Trail, which is a former rail bed. There are parking areas at both ends of the gently sloping trail, so a shuttle trip can be done by leaving cars at both ends.

Other more adventurous skiers can tackle the Ridge Trail for a 7.7- mile trek geared to intermediate to advanced skiers.

Ski equipment rentals are available at the park’s gift shop at the Red House Administration Building. Trail reports can be found online here.

Finger Lakes Region

The extensive trail network at Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area in Springwater, Livingston County, has grooming and is about an hour’s drive south of Rochester. Be prepared to share some of the trails with fat tire bikers on occasion.

A golf course can be a great place for novices to learn and practice, since such terrain is open, free of obstructions and tends not to be very steep. Going doing hill as a beginner? Remember to hold those skis in a “V” shape to control your downhill speed as you test out the friendly terrain at  Soaring Eagles Golf Course at Mark Twain State Park in Horseheads, Chemung County.

Central Region

There are 12 miles of trails at Selkirk Shores State Park in Pulaski, Oswego County. A staff favorite is a beginner/intermediate three-mile loop that incorporates the Front Pond Trail, Pine Grove Trail, a section of the 52C snowmobile trail, and Red Fox Trail, before returning to the Pine Grove Trail

Verona Beach State Park, in Verona Beach, Onedia County, offers miles of trails where they might encounter wildlife like white tailed deer, squirrels, foxes, and more. The two-mile Hog’s Back Trail loop follows a natural rise along Verona Beach’s massive swamp. Keep your eyes open at the overlooks for a potential glimpse of the nest of a mated pair of bald eagles.

There are about 15 miles of trails at Gilbert Lake State Park in Laurens, Otsego County. The mile-long trail around the namesake lake is periodically groomed, as is the two-mile Ice Pond Trail to the Twin Fawns Lake Trail.

Genesee Region

In Wyoming County, head for Letchworth State Park in Castile, and its Humphrey Nature Center and the Winter Recreation Area at Trailside Lodge. Here, there are three beginner trails, each about 1.5 miles long.

The park contains seven different parking areas to access about 15 miles of (usually ungroomed) trails. Glide through old-growth forest on the Gravel Loop and the Bishop Woods Loop. For great views of the spectacular Great Bend Gorge, check out the Chestnut Lawn Loop.

Long Island Region

There are two ungroomed trails at the Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown, Suffolk County _ the 1.5-mile beginner Green Trail that goes through woods, fields and wetlands, and the 1-mile Orange Trail that offers view of Willow Pond.

At the Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale, Suffolk County, there are many miles of marked hiking trails that can be skied. There is no grooming, and trails range from one to eight miles in length. The preserve includes an historic former sportsmen’s club and a newly-restored 18th century gristmill.

About six miles of ungroomed trails, ranging from intermediate to advance, are found at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, Suffolk County. Take the Field 4 Trail to ski through woods before reaching overlooks for Sunken Meadow Creek and Long Island Sound. No skiing is allowed on the golf course.

Niagara Region

At Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, Erie County, explore the Outer Loop Trail that begins at the Red Barn Parking Lot. A 2.7-mile trail suitable for beginners, it meanders through open pastures and fields, with some short legs through forests and views of farmlands and valleys.

Explore trails at Evangola State Park in Irving, Chautauqua County, to capture views of Lake Erie. The trail network covers about five miles, with the Rim Trail running along the edge of the lake.

Saratoga/Capital Region

At Mine Kill State Park in North Blenheim, Schoharie County, start at the park office for the moderate, three-mile Long Path/Bluebird Trail Loop, which offers sweeping views of the Schoharie Valley and the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir. Snowshoes and a small assortment of XC skis are free to borrow from the Park Office with a small deposit.

The moderate/intermediate Shaver Pond Trail at Grafton Lakes State Park in Grafton, Rensselaer County is a two-mile loop around the pond, where you can often see signs of beaver activity. The trail has some roots and rocks, so be mindful of snow cover. The park office rents snowshoes, but not skis.

Skiers have been going to Thacher State Park in Voorheesville, Albany County, for years because of its extensive trail network. Try out the lesser-used North Zone of the park, and its Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail, a three-mile intermediate loop through fields and forests. Use the Carrick Road parking area.

Beginners can practice on groomed trails that run for a total of three miles through the camping loops and around the lake at Moreau Lake State Park in Moreau, Saratoga County. There is skiing on ungroomed trails through the rest of the park.

Taconic Region

While there are no marked or groomed trails for skiing at James Baird State Park in Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County, the park’s golf course and many small, undulating hills there are a great place for beginners to practice climbing, turning, slowing and (maybe a little) falling.

Skiers could spend days touring the 25 miles of carriage roads at Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville, Westchester County. Some favorites are the beginners’ 1.15-mile Brothers Path/Swan Lake Carriage Road, with views of the lake; the Thirteen Bridges/Gory Brook Carriage Roads, which along 2.5 miles of intermediate terrain offer view of the Pocantico River and waterfalls; and the intermediate Rockwood Hall Middle, Lower and Foundation Loop Carriage Roads, that go past the Hudson River.

There are 12 miles of trails at Fahnestock Winter Park in Carmel, Putnam County. Equipment rentals are available at the lodge, which also marks the start of the popular Lake Trail. Weather permitting, trails are also groomed on the lake. The trail will take you by a beaver lodge, over the dam built by the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and past many small islands.

Cross-country skiing at Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County can be as near as one’s own backyard, as most of the ungroomed 26-mile trail is bordered by homes.  As the park is level, the area is great for those who are new to the sport. 

The Aqueduct is crossed by many streets, and the best cross-country skiing is found in the sections with the fewest road crossings.  Top on the list is the section from Gory Brook Road in Sleepy Hollow to Country Club Lane in Scarborough, about two and a half miles of level trail through the woods.  This section connects to Rockefeller State Park Preserve.   Those who like hills should enter Rockefeller Preserve just north of the Weir chamber and follow the Peggy’s Way trail south for some gentle hills before returning to the Aqueduct.

Another popular area is at the northernmost section by the Croton Dam.  Here the trail clings to the sides of a steep gorge through which runs the Croton River.  The Gorge is a park of its own, operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation and called the Croton Unique Area.  Only two lightly-traveled roads cross the 2.5 miles of wooded Aqueduct trail as it heads south to Croton.

Curiously the most densely-populated area through which the trail runs also features a fine area for skiing.  This section, likewise of about 2.5 miles, has two road crossings, but almost all of it runs through the woods, with unparalleled winter views of the Hudson River and Palisades. 

Palisades Region

There are stunning clifftop views from trails at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Kerhonkson, Ulster County. Being free of rocks, roots and other obstructions, the 16-mile network of carriage trails are wide and “skiable” even with only a few inches of snow.

Thousand Island Region

At Robert Moses State Park in Massena, St. Lawrence County, there are more than five miles of trails through the woods and along the St. Lawrence River in  NY. The Nicandri Nature Center offers ski and snowshoe loans for all ages as well as ski instruction.

In the western Adirondacks, Higley Flow State Park in Colton, St. Lawrence County, has the popular 1.3-mile Overlook Trail that passes through a pine and spruce forest.  This trail connects with the Backcountry Trail (1.9 miles) and the Warm Brook trail (1.6 miles) for those wishing to challenge themselves further.

This is just a sampling of the ski trails at State Parks. So, when snow is on the ground, grab your skis, and get out there!


Cover Photo: Skiers at Saratoga Spa State Park. All photos by State Parks.

By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for NYS Parks


Read this history of cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks.

Get out and explore … the Taconic Region of State parks

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.

Westchester County

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.

Maps here

Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville.

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.

Maps here

Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park in Yorktown Heights.

Putnam County

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.

Maps here

The view from the South Taconic Trail, looking toward Mount Brace, at Taconic State Park in Millerton/Copake Falls.

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.

Maps here

Kayaking on the Hudson River in Mills Norrie State Park.

Columbia County

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.

Maps here

Picnic tables along the trail at Lake Taghkanic State Park.

There is a full list of activities this month at State Parks and Historic Sites in the Taconic Region. It can be found here

Keep an eye on the NY Parks Blog in coming weeks as we explore hikes in the ten other State Parks regions… Do you have a favorite to share?

Four-Legged Grounds Crew

One hundred Southdown sheep once mowed the expansive lawn of William Rockefeller’s estate, Rockwood Hall, in North Tarrytown, NY.  A century later sheep and goats are grazing once again, but now the property is part of Rockefeller State Park Preserve (Preserve) in the renamed community of Sleepy Hollow.

sheep1
Sheep grazing at Rockefeller State Park Preserve.

Over recent years, the steep slopes and historic stone foundation overlooking the Hudson River became overrun by the highly invasive akebia vine (Akebia quinata), porcelainberry vine (Ampelopis brevipedunculata) and other invasive species.  To control the vines and manage the grassy hillsides, the Preserve has partnered with Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, a neighboring non-profit working farm and education center, to rotate sheep and goats around the foundation.  Stone Barns gets more grass and forage for their sheep, while public lands get invasive species more under control in an ecofriendly way.

The project was begun in mid-summer of 2014 with 50 sheep augmented by 7 goats over four months.  This year Rockwood Hall will host 10 Boer goats, 30 Tunis sheep and 50 Finn Dorset sheep. They are rotated every 4-6 days through small paddocks enclosed with temporary electric netting and peripheral fencing.   Chris O’Blenness, a farmer employed by Stone Barns Center, is managing the flock and stays on-site at night in a travel trailer.

This is the first joint Rockefeller State Park Preserve-Stone Barns Center experiment aimed at improving landscape health and ecosystem function.  It is also a potential strategy for increasing access to land for beginning farmers.  Chris O’Blenness is representative of beginning farmers and ranchers who are searching for land to work. This type of symbiotic grazing arrangement on public lands is a potential model for other public lands that can offer beginning farmers affordable opportunities for land access—all while performing a vital public service and delighting Preserve visitors.

Envisioned as a multi-year initiative, this on-going land management is needed to make headway against the fast-growing spread of invasive species.   So far grazing is making a difference, but progress would be lost if grazing were stopped.  Although 90 grazing animals sounds like a lot, it’s not on a large landscape.  We have also added weedwacking and mowing to the rotation.  Since the grazing started, one terrace, once engulfed in a 3 foot tangle of thick porcelainberry vine, is now able to be mowed weekly and visitors are able to spread blankets on grass and picnic where no one dared before.

sheep2
Terrace with porcelainberry in the summer of 2014.

sheep3
The same terrace in December of 2014 after grazing and mowing.

As the Preserve and Stone Barns gain experience and increase numbers of animals, we’re hoping to fine-tune the grazing to achieve ecological and foraging goals.  Meanwhile, the baas of the sheep and goat greet visitors, many of whom now stop and look and think about invasive species and land management challenges.

Post and photos by Susan Antenen, Rockefeller State Park Preserve Manager.