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Rockland Lake Revisited

by Lisa Marasa & Bill Blades

Rockland Lake State Park is one of our favorite places in the Hudson Valley to relax, picnic, fish, hike and take lots of nature photos. My first memories of Rockland Lake are from day camp in my pre teen years. It was a great place to go swimming and spend the day outside in the hot, humid summers of the Hudson Valley as kid. It’s not one of the biggest lakes in New York State but there are beautiful landscapes at every turn for the outdoor photographer and the hiking trails provide spectacular views of the Hudson River Valley. I love the hiking trails panoramic views almost year round, but I enjoy the off months, weekdays and evenings to avoid the hordes of people that invade my quiet place on the summer weekends.

Rockland Lake State Park is located in the Rockland County region of The Lower Hudson Valley, specifically in Congers, NY, on a ridge of Hook Mountain over the west bank of the Hudson River. This is also one of the places that our portion of The Long Path, part of the Appalachian Trail, runs through Rockland County. The Long Path passes through Mountainview County Nature Park, it follows 9W for a mile or so, and then leaves it for Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain State Park with dramatic views of the Hudson River and Haverstraw Bay. It then drops down to the small Haverstraw Beach State Park and follows a road out of it into High Tor State Park. There are trailheads to the Long Path that run through Rockland Lake and along the bank of the Hudson, which provide spectacular views of the river, the Tappan Zee Bridge and Westchester County. There’s a trail head at the tennis courts at the Championship Golf Course, at the circle area of the Executive Golf Course parking lot and on Landing Road near the Rockland Lake Firehouse to name a few. Just wander up a trail and look for the Blue/ Aqua Blaze Markers and you’re on your way! Rockland Lake State Park has two Olympic-sized swimming pools with kiddie pools at the North and South locations, picnic tables and grills, a boat launch and boat rentals, six tennis courts and two golf courses. You can fish Rockland Lake for bass, perch and norlunge or use the 3 mile fitness trail around the lake for walking, jogging, biking or roller blading. During the winter there are designated cross country skiing trails and sledding slopes. Rockland Lake is one of the many state parks of NY and a part of the Palisades Interstate Park system. It was developed and opened to the public in the early 1960s.  As almost every area in the Historic Hudson Valley, Rockland Lake State Park comes with its own surprising story and tragic twists of fate. There was once a small but thriving Village of Rockland Lake, of which little remains today with the exception of The Knickerbocker Fire House, a couple of buildings, some stone foundations and stairways to nowhere.

The Knickerbocker Ice Company was established at Rockland Lake on the eastern bank In 1835, after three men, John J. Felter, John G. Perry and Edward Felter cut out some large chunks of ice from a frozen lake in Rockland County and sold it at nearly 100% profit. It wasn’t long before the business was booming. The stored ice was placed on inclined railroad cars, transported down the mountainside, placed on barges on the Hudson River, and shipped to New York City. At first hotels and butchers were the primary users of this ice since the average household did not yet have access to the ice boxes of the time and preserved food by drying, canning, brining or smoking. So much ice was shipped that Rockland Lake became known as the “Icehouse of New York City”.  Eventually as inventors came up with more ways to create artificial refrigeration it was only a matter of time before the modern appliances would replace the need and impracticality of ice boxes that depended frozen lakes and the unpredictability of weather. Gradually the ice harvest decreased, and in 1924 the last ice harvest took place in Rockland County.  The Knickerbocker Ice Company closed in 1924. In 1926, workers who were demolishing one of the “ice houses” accidentally set fire to the structure’s sawdust insulation. The fire spread extremely quickly and destroyed the majority of the Village of Rockland Lake. The old foundation of the ice company remains today, marked by a historical plaque and bench.  The Knickerbocker Ice Company’s history is celebrated annually with the Knickerbocker Ice Festival. This two day weekend festival includes ice carving demonstrations and competitions, kids ice park and canteen, bon fires and igloo building, art exhibits, history programs and more.

If you’re looking for great New York trails in the Hudson Valley, Rockland Lake has everything you need from hiking trails, cross country skiing, mountain biking trails, walking trails and geocaching opportunities along the Historic Hudson River in New York. You can get more information on the lake and trail, hiking trail maps and hiking clubs from the New York State Parks and Recreation Department.

Lisa Marasa & Bill Blades are local photographers who share their work online at HudsonValleyPhotography.net. You can also see some of their work displayed on the walls of the Nyack Starbucks through August 31.

Photo Credit: Hudson Valley Photography.
Film Credit: “1902 Cutting and Canaling Ice at Rockland Lake” by Thomas Edison, Feb 24 1902 via MediaFilmProfessor on YouTube.

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