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Marydell Nature Preserve Enhances Upper Nyack Green Space

Marydell Nature Preserve, a remarkable addition to Upper Nyack’s green spaces, has emerged as a hidden gem within the community. Spanning eight acres of forested wetlands and uplands between Midland Avenue and 9W, this preserve protects a white-blazed hiking trail that has long been cherished by local hikers as a link to Hook Mountain. Thanks to the generous gift of the property from the sisters of Marydell Faith and Life Center to the Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain, the land will remain in perpetuity a vibrant and open green space.

The entrance to Marydell Nature Preserve on North Midland in Upper Nyack

Many people collaborated to bring about this new preserve with the primary objective of providing enhanced public access to nature while creating an enriched habitat for local flora and fauna. The preserve holds a significance beyond being a site for a connector trail; it is an integral part of a larger endeavor known as the Boulder Loop Trail. This ambitious project aims to interconnect Hook Mountain, Nyack Beach, River Hook preserve, and the new Marydell Nature Preserve, culminating in a unified network of precious green spaces.

“The Preserve is yet another reminder that the land may be of the heavens, but its protection is thanks to the generosity and hard work of individuals committed to long-term environmental stewardship.”

David Neil, Chair, The Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain 

Let’s take a closer look at the story behind this new public space, the Boulder Trail, and the people and organizations responsible for its creation.

Preserving a Rich History

The lower reaches of the Marydell Nature Preserve are characterized by abundant wetlands fed by local springs. A vernal pond near the preserve’s entrance provided a unique habitat for wildlife. Spring peepers, small frogs, still fill the spring evenings with their melodic calls near the old pond. In late spring, a skunk cabbage forest emerges, and songbirds fill the treetops with their melodies. While the preserve may have been farmland at one point, it has been reforested for over a century.

Marydell Nature Preserve is truly a green space

In the late 19th century, greenhouses located at the southeast corner of Midland and Larchdale Avenues cultivated flowers for New York City markets. The nearby ponds and lowlands served as convenient water source for these greenhouses. Over time, a small lane established by two estate holders between their properties evolved into Larchdale Avenue. The greenhouses are long gone but the area surrounding Marydell Nature Preserve has maintained its rural quality. 

Detail of an 1896 map showing Arthur Tucker’s greenhouses at the corner of Midland and Larchdell (sic) Avenue. Marydell will eventually occupy the estate of Colonel Alexander Pollock.

A Century of Dedication at Marydell Faith & Life Center

Celebrating its 100th year in Upper Nyack in 2024, the Marydell Faith & Life Center has never been idle since the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine took possession of the 70-acre farm at the foot of Hook Mountain. In the early years, the sisters established Save-A-Life Farm assisting to feed local people during the Great Depression. Planted fields, chicken coops, a Sears Kit barn for milk cows and horses now named Kateri Lodge, and an old 19th century farmhouse completed the farmland.

Marydell’s Kateri Lodge at the foot of Hook Mountain

Marydell camp, an annual event organized by the sisters until the 1980s, brought city children closer to nature. The center’s numerous log cottages provided overnight lodging, and campers engaged in gardening, swimming, arts and crafts, archery, and campfire gatherings, nurturing their well-being and spirit.

As the number of sisters have declined so has their ability to maintain a large property. In 2017, the sisters transferred around 30 acres adjacent to Hook Mountain and Nyack Beach State Parks to the state park system. The beautiful open meadow west of Broadway, just under Hook Mountain, stands as the sole reminder of the farms that once covered the Nyacks. 

Managed by a board of volunteers, Marydell Faith & Life Center’s remaining ten acres host numerous educational and environmental programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. From children’s gardening and swimming classes to English as a second language courses, the breadth of the center’s program is truly exceptional. 

The Dedication of the Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain

Hook Mountain wrapped in fog. This Marydell meadow became part of Nyack Beach State Park.

The Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain, a non-profit group comprised of dedicated volunteers, is committed to preserving the history and natural resources of Hook Mountain, Rockland Lake, Nyack Beach, and Haverstraw Beach State Parks. Their goals include expanding public access to these parks, conserving open space, and safeguarding wildlife. For many years they have provided environmental education courses to several school systems including the Nyack school system.

Preserving open space may sound simple, but even when land is donated at no cost, significant effort is required. The “Friends” assume the responsibility of covering legal fees and environmental reviews when they are given land. As a non-profit organization, they deeply appreciate ongoing supporters and warmly welcome new supporters and volunteers to their efforts in creating green spaces.

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference’s Contribution

Another group involved in improving public access to open space is the New York-Jersey Trail Conference. As a result of another transfer of property from the sisters to the park system in 2017, the conference undertook the task of scouting and building one of the area’s most unique trails – the 1.5 mile Hook Mountain Summit Trail. This trail connects Nyack Beach State Park with the Long Path and Hook Mountain, meandering the rocky talus at the foot of Hook Mountain. 

The building of the Hook Mountain Trail required a lot of effort

The conference’s long distance trail crew builders, led by dedicated members Chris Reyling, Erik Garnjost, and Marty Costello, invested meticulous effort in constructing the most difficult sections of the Boulder Loop Trail. With great care, they crafted stone steps and a sturdy stone bridge that gracefully traverses a mountain creek. Despite its rugged nature, this trail presents a unique opportunity to witness wildlife up-close in a habitat that is seldom accessed by visitors. Kevin McGuinness from Valley Cottage and Addison Chappel from Nyack supervise the maintenance of the Long Path and the Boulder Loop Trails, respectively, ensuring their continued enjoyment for all who venture upon them.

Trail crew at work on the Hook Mountain Summit Trail

The Friends of River Hook – The Hester Haring Cason Preserve

Situated near the Marydell Preserve, the 10+acre Hester Haring Cason Preserve, known as River Hook, offers a serene historic space under the care of the Friends of River Hook and village mayor Karen Tarapata.  The preserve features a sculpture garden, poetry walks, and other art exhibits. Ongoing efforts by hundreds of dedicated volunteers focus on restoring meadows by eliminating non-native species and planting numerous trees. The historic Haring estate house along with its picturesque two-story stable, a brook side sandstone cold storage shed and caretaker’s cottage, adds another layer of charm to the preserve. The new Boulder Trail will wind through the heart of this preserve, passing by its meadows and historic buildings.

A fall view of River Hook looking east to the estate house and the Hudson River

The Realization of a Vision

For many years, the eight-acre property belonging to the sisters remained on the market, separated from their main campus by an incomplete housing development. With concerns about seeing their land transformed into housing, the sisters began contemplating a different path.

“Our prayers led us to the realization that, perhaps, God’s desire was the preservation of these acres.” 

Sister Veronica, Marydell Faith & Life Center

Having worked with the Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain during the first property transfer in 2017, it was only natural for the sisters to turn to the same group. In October 2022, the transfer of the property was successfully completed.

“We are very fortunate that the sisters have chosen to donate an additional 8 acres to the Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain so that this land can be preserved forever.” 

Bob Stien, neighbor & board member, Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain

The commitment of the sisters to leave behind a green legacy is a heartwarming story that will be cherished for generations to come.

The New Boulders Loop Trail

The newly established Boulders Loop Trail offers several starting options for those walking from the Nyacks. Visitors can park at Nyack Beach State Park, and from there, look for the three white blazes on the river trail near the parking lot. The complete loop is approximately 3 miles long, starting and ending at Nyack Beach.

For dedicated hikers, there is an option to extend the loop by embarking on an out-and-back uphill hike along the blue-blazed Long Path to the magnificent summit of Hook Mountain overlooking Nyack and the Tappan Zee, making the total distance four miles. Alternatively, enthusiastic hikers can embark on a 6.1-mile route that combines the Boulders Loop Trail with the Long Path over Hook Mountain, reaching the landing road at Rockland Lake, and returning along the River Trail.

Boulders Loop Trail map

(Note: the route along Broadway, through River Hook, and along Midland Avenue is not yet blazed, yet the route is easily followed.)

Looking to the Future 

According to David Neil, Chair of the Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain, open spaces hold significance beyond public access to nature and creating improved habitats for wildlife. They are also a part of the village’s identity and historical roots.

Therefore, let us celebrate the latest addition to Upper Nyack’s outstanding collection of forever-green public spaces and extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the individuals and groups who collaborated to make this vision a reality. Now, it is our turn to enjoy these spaces and contribute our time and resources to support these organizations in building a greener future.

Entrance to Boulders Loop Trail on North Midland at the Marydell Nature Preserve

Michael Hays is a 35-year resident of the Nyacks. Hays grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He has retired from a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. Hays is an avid cyclist, amateur historian and photographer, gardener, and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he cares to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by Sun River Health.

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