Montgomery’s Thomas Bull Memorial Park is a winter wonderland

Part of the Holiday Lights in Bloom display at the park’s Orange County Arboretum. (Orange County Parks)

Thomas Bull Memorial Park in Orange County is one of those places that seem to offer something for everyone. There are the usual park amenities, of course: grassy areas and trails, picnic shelters with charcoal grills, volleyball and tennis courts, ballplaying fields and playgrounds. But its 719 acres also include a boathouse and boat launch, horse stables and two large horse-show rings and an off-leash, contained dog park (leashed dogs are permitted throughout the rest of the park). Development of the park began in 1965 with the acquisition of four dairy farms.

The clubhouse at the Montgomery park’s 18-hole golf course sits atop a mighty hill that in warmer weather is a verdant driving range, but in winter becomes an exhilarating sledding and tubing hill. The five-acre pond nestled in former pasturelands is currently hosting a gaggle of geese, but it will soon be a stellar ice-skating pond. And now that the bulbs, perennials and annuals have run their course at the spacious Orange County Arboretum, its grounds have been “planted” with charming light sculptures in the forms of flowers, animals and holiday sprites.

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The Orange County Arboretum, which encompasses 35 acres of the park, began with longtime county parks commissioner Graham Skea, who secured private funding to begin the project and then lobbied local government officials to get it built. Initial plans were drafted in 1990. By 2002, early supporters Ruth and Jim Ottaway, Sr. donated funds to build an education center on the grounds – which hosts a number of school groups throughout the year and is available to rent for meetings and events – and the Arboretum’s raised beds featuring seasonal blooms had been constructed, along with a 9/11 Memorial Garden. The latter features a ten-ton rotating granite sculpture of the Earth, surrounded with plaques representing the 44 Orange County residents who lost their lives in the Twin Towers.

Further additions since then include a greenhouse that allows the Arboretum to grow plants on-site to fill the beds, and an apiary with beehives in season. A number of walkways connect various themed gardens, including one with an Asian focus and another with Alpine plantings. One garden is dedicated to veterans, and a children’s garden is on the horizon for next year. Water features, teak benches scattered throughout and rock formations all complete a feeling of tranquility.

The Arboretum is accessed from the Grove Street park entrance off State Route 416. There is a motion-activated gate to enter the site by vehicle and a latched pedestrian entrance. The gardens, like the rest of the park, are open to the public free of charge from dawn to dusk year-round. Well-behaved dogs on leashes are allowed.

The Holiday Lights in Bloom display at the Orange County Arboretum will be lit up Friday through Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m. through Sunday, December 17. The display will then be on view daily from Friday, December 22 through Sunday, December 31 (with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Admission is free.

The historic Hill-Hold Museum, located just across and down the street from the park proper, is also part of park territory. It’s closed for the season now, but will open weekends for candlelight holiday tours on Saturday and Sunday, December 9 and 10 from 3 to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, December 16 and 17 from noon to 4 p.m. Admission costs $3 for adults, $2 for children.

The Hill-Hold Museum, housed in Thomas Bull’s 1769 stone farmhouse, highlights the lives of the prominent Bull and Jackson families, who settled much of the area. The house features wide plank floors, wood paneling and huge fireplaces. Circa-1830s furnishings include a prized mahogany sideboard alongside humbler made-on-the-farm pieces. The property includes a gift shop, an 1870s barn and an authentic one-room schoolhouse where the late Amy Bull Crist (1906-1995) once taught.

The unofficial “first lady” of Orange County, Crist had a 50-year career in education that took her from teaching to becoming a principal and ultimately the first female superintendent of schools in the county. She was also instrumental in the founding of Orange County Community College.

For more information about the Orange County Arboretum and the Holiday Lights in Bloom display, call (845) 615-3828 or visit www.orangecountyarboretum.org. More information about the December candlelight tours at Hill-Hold Museum, located at 128 State Route 416 in Campbell Hall, is available by calling (845) 615-3830 or by visiting www.hillholdandbrickhouse.org. Thomas Bull Memorial Park is located at 211 State Route 416 in Montgomery. For more information, call (845) 615-3830 or visit www.orangecountynyparks.com/thomas-bull-memorial-park.

The clubhouse at the park’s 18-hole golf course sits atop a large hill that in winter becomes a sledding and tubing run. (Orange County Parks)

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