by Marcie Cuff
What began as a gift of 190 acres of pristine wilderness in 1963 has quadrupled in size over the past half-century—Teatown Lake Reservation now spans 1,000 acres in Yorktown, Cortlandt and New Castle. More than 25,000 hikers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and environmental educators use its 15 miles of marked and well-maintained trails annually. The trails seamlessly traverse diverse terrain and habitats, including wildflower-choked meadows, mixed hardwood forests, stunning lakes and streams, hemlock and laurel groves, and marshy wetlands. Overlooking the 33-acre Teatown Lake, the Teatown Nature Center provides conservation leadership to the Hudson Hills and Highlands. Don’t be fooled by its close proximity to civilization. Teatown offers a glimpse of alpine worlds otherwise found far, far away from well-trammeled Westchester parks.
Teatown is chock full of unforgettable trails. My all-time family favorite is the 1.5-mile Lakeside Trail, which circles Teatown Lake and features a 600-ft boardwalk over the lake and easy access to a bird observation blind. Access it through the Wildflower Woods trail at the Nature Center. For hardier hikers, the 2.4-mile Hidden Valley Circuit is particularly rewarding, passing through cascading streams and vernal pools.
Nestled within the greater Teatown Preserve is Wildflower Island. Few hikes in our area offer the pure wilderness experience of this small 2-acre refuge. Home to over 230 native and endangered species of wildflowers, the island is isolated from the disturbances of people, animals and invasive species. Visitors enter through two locked wrought-iron gates and cross a slender wooden bridge leading to a narrow island path. Experienced Teatown guides lead visitors along the hiking loop, describing unique features of the island’s wildflowers, most of which are native to New York. Black, red, white and scarlet oaks, sugar and red maples, flowering dogwoods and shagbark hickories tower above the trails, while stunning red trillium, fire pink, and yellow lady’s slipper creep nearby among wild geranium and woodland phlox. The flora is unusually diverse on this tiny island. It packs a lot into a short walk. Guided tours are held on Saturdays at 10 am and 1 pm, and on Sundays at 1 pm from now until mid-September. Pre-registration is required for all tours. Put this little spot on the tippy top of your summer to-do list, but leave the kids at home for this short hike. The flora is delicate, so children under 12 are not permitted on the island.
Hiking is a summer essential. You don’t have to be a botanist or endurance runner to appreciate the wonders of the trails. All you need is a desire to slip out your back door and explore the outdoors. Teatown’s trails are open 365 days from dawn to dusk, and the Nature Center is open daily from 9 to 5. You can gain trail access to most hikes from the Nature Center at 1600 Spring Valley Road in Ossining. See you out there on the trails!
Marcie Cuff lives in Irvington, works at the NY Botanical Garden, and is the author of the book “This Book Was a Tree”(Perigee Books). For more ideas like this, look for her book at any bookstore, or visit her blog Mossy at http://mossymossy.com.