by Peter Paden
Published September 7, 2012 in the Register-Star
On a sunny Sunday afternoon last month, my wife and I decided to take a hike. We thought it would be fun to go somewhere we hadn’t been before. For the past year, work has been underway to construct a trail connecting the Columbia Land Conservancy’s Greenport Public Conservation Area with Scenic Hudson’s Harrier Hill Park to the north, in Stockport. A few things remain to be done, but the trail is substantially complete so we decided to give it a try. It was a great idea.
The Greenport Public Conservation Area
I hope everyone is by now familiar with the Greenport Public Conservation Area. Greenport was the Columbia Land Conservancy’s first public conservation area. The initial parcel, a 400-acre farm that was on the market for a housing development, was acquired in 1992. The property has been expanded several times over the years. It is the product of a partnership between the Open Space Institute, which holds title to the land, and CLC, which has developed the area for public use and manages it.
Today, Greenport is a 714-acre preserve. It is an exceptionally beautiful property extending north from the border of the City of Hudson along the river shore all the way to the Stockport town line. There are extensive upland meadows (wonderful grassland bird habitat), deciduous and coniferous forests and ravines that line the river bank and a fresh water tidal wetland along the river’s edge. Not counting the new Harrier Hill connector, there are more than five miles of trails that traverse a varied landscape. More than a mile of these trails, the first section extending from the main parking lot off Daisy Hill Road, is wheelchair accessible, offering access to expansive river and Catskill Mountain views and a lovely picnic area. If you haven’t been there, please visit. It is a very special place.
Harrier Hill Park
Harrier Hill is a park that was created by our friends at Scenic Hudson, and managed by CLC. It is relatively small, some six acres, but surrounded by another 187 acres of land that is part of New York State’s Stockport Flats Conservation Area. The park itself is a well kept grassy knoll on which is situated an attractive pavilion designed to look like a corn crib. The views from this spot are nothing short of spectacular, reaching north and south along the river valley and far to the west, encompassing what seems like a full profile of the Catskill Mountains, the Helderberg Escarpment, and extensive rich rolling open lands in between.
Harrier Hill and the surrounding State lands are situated in the Town ofStockport, north of the Greenport Public Conservation Area and separated from it, until recently, by a single parcel of land. Four years ago, Scenic Hudson acquired that parcel. Not long after, we began to plan a connector trail linking the two sites.
Scenic Hudson has taken the lead in creating the connector trail. Staff from both organizations met together over a period of time to lay out a viable pathway, but Scenic Hudson managed and oversaw the construction. Some of the work was done by volunteer work crews, including a number of regular CLC volunteers and members of the Stockport Trails Committee, a group CLC has been working with for several years. A large group of volunteers from the Student Conservation Association spent one long weekend working on the trail in June. The cost of the project was largely covered by a grant administered by the state’s Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The resulting trail offers an extremely scenic, interesting and varied hiking experience.
The New Connector Trail
If you are starting from Greenport, the new trail connects off of the northern-most loop of the Red Trail. The new trail is pretty wide at that spot, the width of a cart track, and well marked. The path soon narrows considerably and switches back sharply and downward to traverse the steep bank of a deep ravine. Unlike most of the ravines and gullies that line the riverbank, which carry intermittent run-off and, hence, are dry at this time of year, there is still running water flowing into this ravine from the upland forest. But it is plainly a pale reflection of the volume one can expect to see earlier in the season. The channel, which heads in a northerly direction roughly parallel to the Hudson River, is 20-30 feet wide and quite obviously a very serious stream when high volumes of water are cascading off the bank. The trail tracks along side this now almost-dry stream bed for several hundred yards. The woods here are beautiful. The topography is dramatic, with steep forested embankments rising on either side of a broad wooded valley.
The trail crosses over another, much narrower ravine that carries water off the high ground to the east and then heads steeply upward. At this spot you are still walking on the grounds of the Greenport Public Conservation Area. After a while you come to the boundary of the property and before long the trail turns sharply eastward. These woods, too, are striking. As on the Greenport PCA land, it is a mature hardwood and hemlock forest. The understory is relatively clear. The pitch of the land is ever-interesting. Even with the trees in full leaf, occasional flashes of light from the surface of theHudsonshine through in places. Several broad, heavily wooded gorges provide dramatic, magical forest views.
Quite suddenly, just about the time you start to wonder if Harrier Hill is ever going to come into view, the trail crosses a small bridge, rises up out of the woods past a small pond and emerges into a broad open field bursting with fall-blooming asters and other wildflowers, gray dogwood and native grasses. From this point onward, the pathway is firmly constructed of packed gravel. It proceeds through a series of luxuriant fields across Rod & Gun Road, past several large wetlands or intermittent pools and on into Harrier Hill.
Give It a Try
I encourage anyone who enjoys a good hike in beautiful outdoor surroundings to explore this trail. You will not be disappointed.
We parked in the lot at the Greenport Town Park, from which there is a trail link to the Red Trail at the Greenport PCA. It took us an hour and a half to get to Harrier Hill. If you park at the main entrance to Greenport, it’s going to take 45 minutes to an hour longer just to get up to the end of the Red Trail. Either way, you might want to take two cars and park one at the destination to avoid having to retrace your steps.
Have a great time.
Peter Paden is Executive Director of the Columbia Land Conservancy. His column appears on the first Friday of every month.