Black Creek Preserve is this little portal of awesomeness right off Route 9W in Esopus. In literally one minute, you go from the parking lot to the trail-of-instant-gratification: rushing stream, gorgeous little suspension bridge and beautiful woods. It’s so accessible, so doable that it feels like a magical escape. It’s hiking without the commitment.
We discovered this treasure because I was driving along Route 9W looking for something brief, interesting and enjoyable (and preferably free) to do with our son during our daughter’s nearby Barefoot Dance class. I had driven past the Black Creek Preserve signs for years and never knew how accessible it was. I wondered if Black Creek meant dark and cavelike, and if Preserve meant “Don’t go here because we’re preserving the land.” I muscled past every ounce of I’d-better-not-need-a-tent-for-this resistance (the road shares a driveway with an enclave of vacation cottages) and drove in.
Everything is right there: the parking lot, a map kiosk (I love the reassurance of You Are Here-style visuals) and the trailhead, just steps away through a sweet little tree-branch-constructed archway. We love the variety of walkway terrain, from forest floor to step-stones to wooden planks; it all adds to the enchantment.
Most of the forest hikes that I’ve done require at least a half-day commitment, between assembling our gear, driving there, hiking, breaking for lunch, then heading back. Instead of “being” our day, sometimes I like having that woodland experience woven into our day, between playdates and karate. I feel like Black Creek is tailor-made for those times when I just want to get away from it all, but I only have an hour (because dinner’s not going to make itself).
As we spend time on the trail, I notice that the perceived wall between Us and the Land melts away, and we shift gears from doing an outing or a hike to just being in the woods. One step leads to the next; leaves and icy frost crunch under our sneakers. We are in it. We become part of it. We are connected to it. This part of the world expands us, but also grounds us in our own being as part of a larger whole.
My kids care about these woods because they are getting to know them, step by step, stick by stick, instead of being another blur along the drive on 9W. It’s part of my children’s inner landscape because it is part of their outer landscape. That is why we come. Such power and possibility in such a short walk that you could do on your way to the mall!
Visit www.scenichudson.org or call (845) 473-4440 for the Black Creek Parkquest information guide about trail wildlife, including a special space for the secret stamp in the Quest box at the end of the Blue Trail. By the way, Black Creek got its name from the streambed’s dark coloration, from the tannic acids leached by the neighboring hemlock trees.
Looking for a way to explore the outdoors indoors? Check out “Tuesday Tales at Ten: Story Time at the Mohonk Preserve.” A nature-themed story and an activity for children ages 2 to 5 years, Tuesdays at 10 a.m., free, at the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center in Gardiner. After the story time, go check out their Kids’ Corner, Children’s Forest and Winter Sensory Trail. (845) 255-0919, www.mohonkpreserve.org.
If it has been a while since your child has rung the firetruck bell or gone “fishing” at the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum in Poughkeepsie, come out and enjoy free admission on Saturday, January 28 from 1 to 5 p.m. Sponsored by the Mothers’ Club of Vassar Brothers Hospital. (845) 471-0589, www.mhcm.org.
Erica Chase-Salerno lives, loves and laughs in New Paltz with her husband Mike and their two children, the inspirations behind hudsonvalleyparents.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.