April 04, 2010

Photo Essay: Croton Point Park

Not surprisingly, I needed to get out of the city. Being in the city has been torture since I returned from California. It didn't really matter where I went, I just needed to get out.

Croton Point Park is a natural peninsula that forms Croton Bay in the Hudson River just off of the Croton-on-Hudson train station. It seemed interesting enough as an Audubon-designated site of importance, as well as the location of historic wine cellars that are thought to be the oldest in New York State's winemaking history. There's also a 3.5 mile loop trail that takes you through an area of wilderness, making the hour-long, $8+ train ride to and from it seem worth it.

Of course, I don't always get what I expect when I go on these adventures.

Like many of the suburban parks I've visited, this one is really designed for vehicular visitors. True, it's just on the other side of the Metro-North and Amtrak train tracks, but you have to cross over them via a bridge amongst cars whizzing by as you peer through chainlink that arches above you on either side. When you get to the sign welcoming you to the park, you have the choice of going left up a curved road that seems to lead to nowhere, or to the right which appears to have a marked trail.

I turned right because of the trail, despite the signs warning me not to climb the gravel-laden trail up the hill above it, for fear of model airplanes dive-bombing me from above.

Turns out that I'd stumbled upon the Westchester RiverWalk, which, when completed, will connect over 50 miles of Hudson River shoreline. The RiverWalk led me down to the river, replete with empty bottles of 40s, cigarette butts, and lots of driftwood.

I was clearly in the wrong place, but could see the park in the distance, so I turned back, retracing my steps back to the park sign, and proceeding to the left along with the traffic flow.

Signs of spring were few and far between, but there was lots of new, green grass that had been roped off, and some fine, wispy new sprouts of willow trees.

The recent storms had turned most of the picnic areas off the beach into wetlands, inviting lots of Canadian geese back with open arms.

I walked along the beach, thinking I'd find the nature trail...

...and instead, found a bathhouse that looked to have been abandoned for a long time, with relatively new signs indicating it was "closed for future renovations."

Using a hand-drawn map that I'd gotten from the park office, I navigated to a comfort station, closed. (I used a nearby port-a-potty.) I climbed up a steep driveaway to the nature center, which hosts year-round interpretive programs, closed. After retracing my steps back down, I wandered past a pavilion, empty. I meandered down a road for "authorized vehicles only," up another driveway, past another abandoned building...

...until I finally found a big brown hill with signs warning of owls.

Two gravel paths ran perpendicular to one another, so I took one that brought me up the knoll, where I could see the MTA buildings in the distance, where I'd first entered the park. I trudged back down the knoll, relatively certain I'd found the nature trail, but wondering where those wine cellars could be...?

Down the loop trail, I was surrounded by the dry, brown survivors of winter, crackling in the breeze, soaking in the sun. Indeed, I could hear a lot of birds singing and rustling in branches and bramble, but I could see nothing but...a whole lot of nothing.

It was nice.

The loop trail dumped me out by the baseball fields, where I had passed while searching for the park entrance. The trailhead is unmarked, behind the roped-off new grass growth, and deceptively gravel-laden, appearing to be a service road or driveway instead of a gateway to birdwatching. But ,if you know to look for it, you can find an Audubon sign that tells you you're in the right place.

I never found the wine cellars. I didn't discover anything that seemed to be left over from the amusement park that once occupied the southern tip of the peninsula. But unbeknownst to me, I had chosen a park whose 19th century structures place it among Westchester's watchlist for historic preservation, giving me two good hours of exploring and more than 3.5 miles of walking.

And a got a little time out of the city....

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