Play In The Woods

Green Peace: The 4,300-acre Ward Pound Ridge Reservation.Photo: Xavier Guardans

No matter how much you love each other, you’re bound to get into a tiff now and then, the two of you inhabiting a space that would be considered ample only in Beijing. The East Side studio where my wife and I lived during the first year of our marriage was a lousy venue for spats—nowhere to run, nowhere to hide (except the bathroom). To clear our heads, we’d both stomp out, circling the block in opposite directions, passing each other with sidelong glances and quiet grumbling. What I remember about those urban hikes was feeling trapped by Manhattan’s brick-and-concrete verticality, the crowded millions behind their lighted windows. I longed for more open, natural surroundings. The only wildlife I encountered, aside from the bipedal fauna that stalk the city at midnight, was a statue of a wild boar in the pocket park at 57th Street and the East River.

We now live in much larger quarters in Connecticut, and there is far less stomping off, but we still take long walks, often even in the same direction. We have discovered a treasure I wish we’d known about back when we were New Yorkers—a kind of mini national park only an hour’s drive from midtown.

At 4,300 acres, the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, in Cross River, isn’t Yellowstone. But it is Westchester County’s largest state park, providing ample space for people like me who crave regular contact with the natural world. Its 35 miles of hiking trails lead through marshes, meadows, and woodlands; along granite-faced ridges and into pine-shrouded glens that, with a little imagination, resemble parts of Vermont or New Hampshire. Its open fields were originally cleared by Colonial-era settlers, and a few old farmhouses remain, lending an antique charm.

The five major trails are blazed, but more adventurous hikers might want to trek the many unmarked paths. Accompanied by my English setter, I’ve walked here during the week and spent hours without seeing another human. One of the side routes leads to my favorite spot: an overlook with a view of the Cross River Reservoir and, in the far distance, the Catskills. Nearby is Leatherman’s Cave, once the lair of a jilted lover who became an eccentric tramp and wandered the region endlessly in a 60-pound suit of leather.

Migratory songbirds pass through the reservation in spring and fall—and once, my wife and I spotted a rare albino red-tailed hawk. Butterflies found nowhere else in the county flit among the bushes. Deer are common, though not as common as in the suburbs, because here they’re preyed upon by coyotes. There are other fanged beasts, like bobcats and copperhead rattlers. A 200-pound black bear, ambling along as though he were in the Adirondacks, has been sighted several times. During the fishing season, anglers can cast a fly into the Stone Hill or Cross rivers, which are stocked every year but also harbor wild brook trout. The trails are open to horseback riding, and there are picnic tables in several picturesque meadows. A small museum presents a relief-model of the park, some information about the flora and fauna, and contour maps for those interested in orienteering. Whatever your activity, you’ll feel light-years away from the brick and concrete, the crowded millions. And there’s no arguing with the $8 entrance fee.

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Details: Call 914-864-7317 for information. Campsites ($25 per night) and lean-tos ($35 per night) are first-come, first-serve.

Play In The Woods