Bridges and Bears

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

A couple of week-ends ago, looking for some adventure while Paul was off running in tropical cities, I decided to go in search of a new running route. So I set off for Bear Mountain State Park, a 10 minute drive from our place in Peekskill. I drove along Route 6 and parked along Route 9D at the eastern end of Bear Mountain Bridge so that I could start my run by crossing one of my favorite bridges. Bear Mountain Bridge, which opened to traffic on November 27, 1924, was the first bridge to span the Hudson River between Albany and New York City.  At the time it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It’s also part of the Appalachian Trail, a footpath covering 2,160 miles from Maine to Georgia.

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Fall with Anthony's Nose in the background.

I headed towards Hessian Lake in Bear Mountain State Park which I knew to be just on the other side of the bridge. I was aiming for a a circuit of the lake to start with. In the summer it’s full of paddle boats and people fishing but at this time of year the lake there’s typically just a few hikers. I thought about running to the summit of Bear Mountain – but then I recalled how on a hike a few summers before I had clawed my way up on certain sections of polished granite. Maybe next time.

My run around Hessian Lake took a “revolutionary” turn when I came across this sign and found I was following in the footsteps of history:

Fighting at Hessian Lake marker.

The path leading down to the rail tracks and Bear Mountain Dock.

I had stumbled upon a trail taken in 1777 by the British when they set out to attack Forts Montgomery and Clinton during the Revolutionary WarI followed it and was led through a tunnel beneath route 9W.  I passed the Bear Mountain Park swimming pool. Cut into a ravine, for $2 it offers welcome relief from the summer heat.  I passed the entrance to the Trailside Museums and Zoo but decided I would check these out on the return leg and instead headed down towards the river.  The path took me through a tunnel and across the west point rail tracks and the  Bear Mountain Dock. In the 20s and 30s the park operated a fleet of river steamers that brought people up from New York City. Today it’s a popular spot for fishing and taking in the views of Bear Mountain Bridge and fall foliage.

Coming out of the tunnel I could see a few fisherman gathered on the dock.

I could have gone on to Iona Island, a National Natural Landmark which is part of Park Mountain Park but I opted instead to retrace my steps and visit the Trailside Museums and Zoo. Heading into the zoo I found myself back on the Appalachian Trail, at its lowest point of elevation. (A $1 donation is suggested as entry fee but I had no cash on me so I now owe the State until my next visit!)   The first thing I spotted was a larger than life Walt Whitman statue with a quote from his famous poem “Song of the Open Road” carved into a nearby stone.

Walt Whitman adding a literary touch to the Trailside Museums and Zoo trail.

Soon after I came across foxes, porcupines and coyotes in cages. I don’t enjoy seeing animals in cages.  It turns out, however, that all the animals are in fact injured or orphaned and wouldn’t survive in the wild so I guess they are better off in cages. Trailside Zoo started with a bear den in 1926 and the bears in their open enclosure are still the zoo’s biggest draw. The zoo only houses animals that native to New York State – it might be a bit scary to encounter some of them in their natural habitat.  I have to confess that by this point my run had slowed to a walk – I figured I might as well take in what the zoo had to offer in a more leisurely manner.

One of the two black bears in the zoo.

This magnificent bald eagle is another favorite. He’s located in the upper end of the zoo together with other raptors like owls, hawks, and vultures.

Sammy, the bald eagle looking quite regal.

I didn’t have time for the four museums (Reptile and Amphibian, Nature Study, Geology and History Museums) or the trail which connects Fort Clinton to Fort Montgomery across the Popolopen Creek Bridge. This gives me many good excuses to come back for another run someday soon.

On the way out I discovered that there is an entrance to the zoo and museums just across from the toll-booth for Bear Mountain Bridge. Good  to know for my next visit. I then ran across the bridge back to my car. (And I didn’t have to pay the $1.25 toll as I was on my own two feet!). All in all a fascinating run combining history with great views and local flora and fauna.

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