Putnam Valley, NY
SYNOPSIS: Putnam County is blessed with a 14,000-acre outdoor playground. Look at a current map of the county, and the large mass of parkland in the northwest quadrant is Clarence Fahnestock State Park. There are miles of trails within the park to explore, and the property is absolutely beautiful. While some of the hikes are between five and ten miles long, which is a little too long for a family hike with small children, the 1.5 mile Pelton Pond Nature Trail makes a loop around a picturesque pond, and is a great way to explore what Fahnestock has to offer.
APPROXIMATE TIME: One hour.
DIRECTIONS: To get to Pelton Pond Nature Trail from the downtown Carmel area, take Route 301 west for 10.8 miles. Turn left into the dirt parking lot on the south side of the road. There is a large wooden sign in the parking area for the nature trail. The sign indicates that interpretive brochures are available at the park office across the road, but we were there after hours so we did without.
THE HIKE: Up the hill behind the wooden sign is a stone picnic pavilion that overlooks Pelton Pond, which is a flooded old iron ore mine. There are a number picnic tables surrounding the pavilion. While picturesque, some are positioned rather close to the edge of the rocks that lead down to the water below.
Originally, we had not planned on going on a hike. We had just stopped by to see what was over the ridge that is visible from the road, and maybe get some ideas for our next outing. However, as we stood on the rocks overlooking the pond, we could see a boardwalk bridge on the far side of the water – so we just had to go.
We made a counterclockwise loop around Pelton Pond, though in retrospect I think the trail is designed to be walked in a clockwise loop. The trail is well marked with yellow discs, and is frequently used so it is well worn.
Take the dirt trail that is about halfway between the water and the parking lot. Keep the pond on your left side. You will know you are on the correct path if the trail heads closer to the pond and you begin to see the large stones that line both sides of the trail. There are some nice spots along the water to stop and take in the view. You will pass a grouping of 5 trees that have numbered markers nailed to them about 15 feet off the ground – if we had had the interpretive guide we would have known the purpose of the markers.
The trail moves a little inland again to go through a gully that looks like it could get pretty muddy in the spring. A large fallen tree hangs across the gully about 5 feet over the path.
Shortly after the large fallen tree, the trail leads to the water’s edge again, and you can see a concrete structure in the water at the far end of the pond. As you get closer, you can see the rusted machinery that sits atop the concrete form.
At the end of the pond, the trail makes a left to go over an earthen dam. The trail on the first portion of the dam has a tunnel-like feel to it. Near the end of the dam, the trail narrows, with tall weeds and grass invading over the path.
Once over the dam, turn left again to stay on the path. The trail on the back side of the pond, while still well marked and frequently used, has some pretty good drops-offs so hold on to the kids. The exposed roots of the trees serve as both natural steps as well as a tripping hazard. The trail is outlined with moss, and moss-covered rock formations are on the uphill side of the path.
About three quarter of the way around the loop, we came to the wooden bridge that inspired our hike. As we crossed the then-dry streambed we could look back across the pond to see the picnic pavilion and ledge we started on.
Continuing counterclockwise, the trail gets a little more difficult with a few big steps and more tree root obstacles. At the top corner of the pond, where the water was green with algae, we came to a stone structure built into the side of the hill.
Shortly after the structure, make a left onto a narrow path, staying as close to the water as possible. We missed it, staying on the wider path, and ended up at a small field and had to backtrack and bushwhack a little. We passed an old moss-covered picnic table that probably hasn’t been used in 15 years.
In short order the narrow path will end, bringing you out to another wide dirt trail. If you turn left, you should pass a stone building on your right. Keep walking, and the trail will bring you to the far end of the parking lot that you started in.
HISTORY: The land of Clarence Fahnestock State Park has been used in the past for mining, farming, and timber. After the decline of those industries in the area, Clarence Fahnestock bought up old farms and railroad property between 1900 and his death in 1918. In 1929 his brother Ernest Fahenstock, who inherited the property, donated roughly 2500 acres that comprised the original park. Over the years, additions to the park have increased its size to the current 14,000 acres.
The Open Space Institute (OSI) has been extremely effective helping to expand the park’s borders. Starting with a 1991 acquisition of over 2000 acres from Helen Campbell Fahnestock Hubbard (Clarence’s sister), OSI has acquired and protected over 7000 nearby acres, much of which has been transferred to the state.
MAP & ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: We hiked the Pelton Pond Nature Trail in July 2010. Info on Fahnestock is available at www.nysparks.com and the park office number is 845/225-7207. You can print a trail map from the website, or pick one up at the park office, which is on the opposite side of Route 301 from the Pelton Pond parking lot. There is also lots of info on the website for Friends of Fahnestock and Hudson Highlands State Parks at www.fofhh.org. Dogs are allowed on Fahnestock’s trails if on a leash no longer than 10 feet long.
The Open Space Institute Website www.osiny.org has information about their efforts to expand the park, including an interactive map that shows each acquired parcel.