Walking outdoors remains one of the last few activities about which health authorities are, at worst, ambivalent. For now. Daily, the Open Space Institute’s River to Ridge trail (R2R) west of the village of New Paltz resembles a promenade in Paris (and, by some accounts, with a comparably cosmopolitan and expat clientele). Meanwhile the lovely, intricate and wooded Millbrook Preserve just north of the village grid is, it seems, more or less mine.
It always was. In my New Paltz youth, this is where I hiked, played, and did bad things. We called it the Manheim Woods, and the Preserve’s primary point of access is in fact at the bottom of North Manheim Boulevard. As I got older, I moved on to that bigger preserve beginning with an M, and the state park we snatched from the jaws of the Marriott Corporation, the Wallkill Valley rail-trail in my literal backyard, and, yes, the shiny new R2R.
In memory, the Manheim Woods glow like the cataracts and paths of Wordsworth’s Lake District. I assumed this was time and longing doing their small but generous acts of gilding. I figured the Manheim Woods were in reality a sort of scrubby plot of not-much and nothing-to-see-here between this thing and that thing.
Nope. It is actually pretty damn enchanted back there.
The Millbrook Preserve consists of two loops, the Blue and the Yellow, both of which skirt an impressive beaver pond. The exquisite Yellow loop rises to a vaulted, airy forest extending as far east as Woodland Pond. An east-west linear trail — the Green Trail — runs from there nearly to Route 32 North, intersecting both loops several times and a few miscellaneous spurs, including one that delivers you to the back of the Duzine Elementary School. With a minimum of the kind of backtracking that bums hikers out, and at a reflective pace, one can get a solid 90 minutes of hike here, maybe a little more: modest by Mohonk standards, of course, but not bad at all for a village park.
OSI has seen fit to narrate the R2R with expensive educational signage. When I walk its wide and well-drained surface, part of me is offended at the mere idea of an interpretive narrative literally embedded in the landscape, like a big sign that says “scenic vista” with an arrow. Another part of me is thrilled to know more about the behavior of butterflies in meadows.
But when I walk the lightly marked, narrow and sometimes sodden paths of my old Millbrook Preserve, the voices in my head are the only ones telling me what everything means.