Recap Of Our 4th Annual Summer Solstice Hike & Skinny Dip in Upstate NY 2017
Guest blog by: Christopher Walter
As I sat talking with one of the hikers who is relatively new to the New York City area, she mentioned that she loved how there are so many great things to do around the city within only an hour drive or so. I agreed and informed her it is one of the best parts of living in any of the major cities across New York State.
Just a short drive and you can find hiking / biking trails, camping, golf, wine tours, lakes and rivers for boating and swimming, skiing, historical monuments, and more. This is especially true for those of us who love the outdoors, thanks in part to the extensive New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation system as well as the private reserves like Mohonk Preserve. I concede I may be a bit biased toward my home state.
This however reminded me of something I once read, that while most of the great monuments of Europe are a result of thousands of years of man made history, such as the Greek and Roman ruins, or the many castles. Here in relatively young America, without thousands of years of history, arguably our great monuments are our natural monuments, the Grand Canyon, the giants in the Redwood Forest, Old Faithful at Yellowstone, Niagara Falls and many others.
Certainly the area of Harriman State Park we hike doesn’t have anything as majestic as Niagara Falls. But in my opinion it is one of the more picturesque hikes I’ve taken and it has a few small tales to tell as well. On some of the earlier Summer Solstice hikes, I heard some of the stories surrounding the areas of Harriman in which we hike. And since some of it played a small part in this year’s adventure, I thought perhaps a brief history of the area may prove interesting (albeit maybe a bit dry, I’ll do my best to entertain).
In 1909, in opposition to plans to build a nearby state prison, Mary Averell Harriman proposed the donation of 10,000 acres and $1 million dollars for the creation of a new park, on the condition the jail would not be built. On October 29, 1910, the deed and monetary donation was presented to the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission, and Harriman State Park was formed, the prison was not.
Starting in 1913, under the leadership of chief civil engineer Major William A. Welch the park area was eventually expanded to over 43,000 acres through the consolidation of other surrounding parks and forest areas. Welch began with the construction of a parkway thru Harriman to give visitors better access to the area, today the road is known as Seven Lakes Drive, the road from which we begin our hikes.
In the 1930’s during the Great Depression, thanks to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Welch was afforded a large labor force provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Among the many projects undertaken by Welch and the CCC was the creation of 23 new lakes, one which bears his name, and two which we visit on our hike, Lake Wanoksink and Pine Meadow Lake. Several structures were constructed nearby to facilitate the task of the lake development, and later abandoned upon its completion.
One of these structures is an old pump house which we pass on our hike. This year, it became the subject of an impromptu photo session. As with any nude photography, it’s always important to get permission first; our subjects were kind enough to grant us use of their images.
Long before the lake’s construction, the area around Pine Meadow was inhabited as early as 1724 by Nicholas Conklin and later by his descendants all the way up until the 1952. The family has two burial cemeteries in the area. One which we don’t pass on our hike, but interestingly I came across a comment by a Conklin family member who stated that the cemetery contains a stone marked Ezekiel which is actually an empty grave; he is buried in nearby Pamona.
The second cemetery is under the lake. When the water level is low enough a small stone island appears close to where we spend our afternoon. You can swim out to the island and see a plaque marking one of the Conklin family member’s grave sites. This year the water level was too high and the stone island was completely submerged, but if you look at last year’s trip report you can see a photo of a few from the group standing out on the island.
As usual the weather always seems to cooperate for us, sunny with a few clouds and lower than usual humidity made for a good day. In fact I think this was the best year yet. The hike through the woods has plenty of shade, but the swimming areas provide practically none. So the nice slow stream of broken clouds helped give us some nice relief from bad sun burns. That means I was only red for three days after this year, instead of almost two weeks. I’m also getting better with my sunscreen thanks to Felicity’s sunscreen reports.
During the hike we passed lots of flora from the mountain laurel that is always blooming this time of year. We had another annual visit with one of the slithering residence of Harriman, a Timber Rattlesnake. Early in on the hike, a lovely deer crossed our path and stood nearby long enough for a photo before gracefully leaping away.
We passed wild blueberries, but they weren’t ripe for eating yet. And we passed some workmen clearing brush between the lakes. In good nudist fashion we all donned our shorts or wrapped ourselves in towels as we passed.
Once we reached our final destination we all jumped in the lake to cool off. We ate our lunches and then the sunfish came to try and eat their lunches off of us with their occasional nibbles at our legs. We hung out, talked, laughed, and chased butterflies. I’ve come to the conclusion that Felicity and I must smell really bad because this butterfly wouldn’t let us near it.
We chased it for five minutes just to get a photo. Jordan on the other hand must smell like roses, because he walked right up stuck his cell phone six inches away and snapped a photo, not once but twice.
We came from New York City, from the NYC surrounding area, from Syracuse, from Boston, from New Jersey, and I imagine a few other areas as well. I don’t know the exact count, but we were well over 30 people this year. I joked that next year we need to plant some trees so we can have more shade when we are still visiting 20 years from now.
Our hiking leader Beth Nolan replied how wonderful it would be to still be gathering in 20 years. So, I expect there will be many more Solstice hikes in the future. And, if you haven’t made it to the annual Summer Solstice hike yet, we’ve all come from miles around so you know it’s worth the drive.
Hopefully, we will see you next year!
In closing, my historical research consisted of a few hours spent on Wiki and other un-official sites and blogs, thus I apologize ahead of time for any inaccuracies.