Happy trails to you

A park ranger at the Vanderbilt Mansion holds up the patch you get if you walk five trails

A 3.5-mile trail walk was created in 1991 from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home and library in Hyde Park south via River Road to the Vanderbilt Mansion by a partnership among the National Park Service, the town of Hyde Park, Scenic Hudson and the Winnakee Land Trust, plus local branches of the Boy Scouts and the Adirondack Mountain Club. Now, 21 years later, the trail consists of eleven sections of approximately 16.8 miles that run (or walk) from Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill all the way to Norrie Point State Park.

Kathleen Davis, Hyde Park’s recreation director and trails coordinator, is liaison to all the agencies. “It started with a group of Vassar College students involved with the fledgling Hudson Valley Greenway [the proposed trail that will hopefully run from Albany to New York City],” said Davis, “and as we speak we are obtaining easements from The Anderson School, the River Ridge housing development and the Huyler Glen development to connect the remaining spaces. We have secured a $100,000 grant from New York State [Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation] to develop these new trails.”

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The Winnakee Land Trust holds the trail easements across private lands that allow access, and also owns a 100-acre park as part of the trails system. “We work with the town committees and the others to negotiate with landowners and hope to get their approval,” said land trust director Lucy Hayden. “We call it a walkabout, and our aim is to connect every trail in Dutchess County. It’s our 50-year plan, and we keep plugging away at it.”

The walkabout project promotes healthy physical activity such as walking on the trails, which offer dramatic faraway views of the Hudson River and the Catskills, or close-up ones of woodland pools and ponds, streams, waterfalls and picturesque rocky outcroppings, deep woodlands, historic forest plantations, plus carefully maintained ornamental gardens. One can retrace the footsteps of visiting world leaders or Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers in the 1930s or free and enslaved African-Americans who lived here in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Those who walk five Hyde Park trails in one year earn a specially designed free sew-on patch. Walk all eleven trails and earn all five patches issued. The walkabout, which begins every year during Earth Day celebrations, is co-sponsored by the Dutchess County health department.

Instead of walking, you can, as retired IBM planner Bill Ring and his friend Raphael Notin do, run the whole route. In the fall of 2010, Ring and Notin were working with the Winnakee Land Trust mapping trails from Val-Kill to Norrie Point. Ring, who is on the trails committee and is liaison to the town recreation department, remembers the time well. “It was just a beautiful day,” he recalled. “The leaves were down, and everything was so crystal-clear.”

Notin confessed that the project had started as a joke. “We were both amateur runners and we talked about jogging it together,” he said, “but never got to it until I jokingly threw the idea of running all the trails in one go.” That go began at Val-Kill at 9:30 a.m. up and down the narrow trail to FDR’s Top Cottage and around Eleanor’s Walk. Then it passed from Route 9G to Route 9 on the Roosevelt Farm Lane trail. “We ran through the FDR National Historic Site, running through tall forests, meandering along wider sections, looping around vernal pools and magnificent rock ledges,” Notin said. “We then ran northward to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site and found the clayish sandy trails on which Bill used to run barefoot.” There they could loop down right along the banks of the Hudson River and catch glimpses of other estates.

With seven trails down and four to go, the duo was joined by their friend Chris at the Winnakee Nature Preserve. Then it was through Hackett Hill Park and Pinewoods Park. Nine down, two to go.

“Bill wouldn’t stop,” said Notin. “My knee started to hurt. And Chris had a bad cold. We paused and drove north to find the last two trails at Mills Mansion-Norrie Point, dreaming of the day when we will be able to run a continuous trail between Vanderbilt and Norrie Point. From then on, Chris took the lead and pulled us northward on the White Trail, flirting with the Hudson, then back south toward our finish at the Norrie Point Education Center.”

A native of France, Notin had learned a lot about American history and the national and international significance of the sites and woods they visited. He glimpsed a grandeur in the experience. “Running along with my great and humble friend Bill, I contemplated the idea that the Hyde Park trail system is to Dutchess County what the Freedom Trail is to Boston,” he said. “Both trail systems link sites that helped create the American spirit. In times of great trouble, and opportunity for this country, FDR, Eleanor and a host of others found refuge, resource and inspiration in these woods.”

The first Dutchess County Regional Trails Conference, sponsored by the Winnakee Land Trust and made possible by a grant from the Hudson River Valley Greenway, was held over Earth Day weekend at the Marist College Cornell Boathouse. The conference brought together towns, villages and trail groups from across the county to learn from each other, share resources and help envision the kinds of trails and connections that would result in a truly regional system of trails. The presentations at the conference focused on the practical aspects of funding, trail-building and working in partnerships. Smaller break-out sessions mapped out and discussed potential connections and destinations, given the existing ownership land-use patterns.

You can visit Hyde Park Trails online at: www.hydeparkny.us/recreation/trails. Winnakee Land Trust is at: www.Winnakeeland.org. And the National Park Service rivers and trails program can be accessed at: www.nps.gov/rtca.

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