“I go to nature to be soothed, healed and have my senses put in order.”— John Burroughs
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
— Rachel Carson
While every imaginable event has been canceled, closed or postponed until further notice, the one thing that remains constant and steady and available is the great outdoors. There are endless opportunities here.
Nestled into the hillside and ridge top above the Hudson River in Esopus is a 936-acre sanctuary, Shaupeneak Ridge. This refuge for wildlife, plants and people is one of four parks in Esopus owned and managed by Scenic Hudson. With more than nine miles of trail that winds through forests, marshlands, meadows, past waterfalls, rock ledges and walls, streams and Louisa Pond, a floating peat-bog mat, this preserve is a place of natural beauty, restorative calm and canopied refuge.
Not only is this park free and open to the public, it contains passive recreation that appeals to so many different types of outdoor enthusiasts. The paths welcome bird watchers, hikers, cyclists, joggers, dog-walkers and flora and fauna.
Probably its signature feature is Louisa Pond, which visitors can see right from the upper parking lot off Poppletown Road. The approximately ten-acre pond is known as a “kettle-hole pond,” created when a retreating glacier dropped a chunk of ice, leaving behind a water-filled depression. While the beavers have damned the outlet, there is a floating peat mat at the north end and a large bog. There is an easily accessible mile-long trail that wraps around the pond for an easy stroll or family walk.
There is also a second entrance, known as the lower lot off Old Post Road, just next to the train tracks at the base of the ridge. This allows for more robust walking and can lead visitors to the waterfall, views of the Hudson River and footpaths that weave up to the top of the hogback peak, which is on the northern end of the 25-mile Marlboro mountain range.
At most, the parking lots can only host a dozen or so vehicles and. Once people with different outdoor pursuits have moved towards their desired route along the ridge, they feel as though thy’ve entered a place that is far away from civilization. It has a Thoreau-like quietude and a Whitmanesque poeticism to it.
According to Rita Shaheen, director of parks and community engagement for Scenic Hudson, Inc., Shaupeneak’s natural bounty dovetails with its recreational diversity and supports the organization’s mission “to connect people to the Hudson River and the landscapes associated with it.” The parks director said that “Scenic Hudson knew Shaupeneak was an important ridgeline” when it was being marketed by a private owner for lakefront homes. It purchased the first tract of 500+/- acres in 1995, together with the New York State DEC and the West Esopus Landowners Association, who helped manage the property. Since that time, it has acquired adjacent lands which have almost doubled the park in size and scope.
Some lore has it that the famous abolitionist and women’s rights orator Sojourner Truth, a freed slave living in New Paltz, may have traversed its 11.5-mile ridgeline, Had she walked through these forests with their owl hoots and moon-reflecting waters, she may have received some nourishment from them. During any time, but particularly during unsettled times, Louisa Pond and the various footpaths and forests that lead to and around and away from it, provide a sort of balm, a salve, a sweet solace to all that is beyond our grasp but right before our eyes.
There are three other Scenic Hudson parks (of 49 total) in Esopus, including the Black Creek Preserve, Esopus Meadows and High Banks. Programs gather science and data, weed out invasive species, and encourage existing wildlife and native flora to flourish.