Harriman Park in Winter: The Nickel Mine

February 10, 2010

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…

Harriman Park is most every downstate hiker’s favorite place for solitude and keeping in shape.  I like winter best for hiking because there is no vegetation to block the views, fewer people out, no snakes, and – if there is enough snow for snowshoeing – I can walk just about anywhere because the snow covers rocks and fallen logs.

The path that diverges to the left in the photo above is a remnant of the Rockhouse Mtn trail, unmarked and rarely used (not a footprint on it).  The path to the right is the Beech trail, a popular route for hikers that follows a 200-year old farm road.   It’s not at all disturbing that most everyone takes the road more travelled; on the contrary, I find it gratifying that there are so many of these choices to be made in Harriman Park.

On this early February day my destination was the Nickel Mine, one of many mines in the Ramapo Mountains.  With some effort it can be reached from the north in spring, summer and fall on an unmarked and very wet old bottom road, then by climbing up the old mine road – but not in winter because the access road for cars, Tiorati Brook Road, is closed for the season.  So I approached the mine from the south, bushwhacking 2½ miles from the Beech trail, picking my way along the edge of a swamp, crossing a long-abandoned mill sluice, edging uphill, and then hiking along ancient paths to the trailless ridge of Grape Swamp Mtn and then to the open mine.  This route is not just less travelled but completely unknown to the casual hiker on the Beech trail.

Nickel ore was indeed mined from the Nickel Mine, which was operated for 10 years (1875-1884) by the Rockland Nickel Company, though the rock looks like it contains iron.

One can walk into the pit, protected from the blustery north wind.  There were no tracks here, of course, except for those of the animals that make Harriman their home, especially deer, rabbits, foxes and voles.

After a quick lunch in the mine, I returned by a different route, partly on the Beech trail, so I could pass the Civil War era Jones family cemetery. This part of Harriman Park was settled by farmers, who eked out a subsistence from the rocky soil.  Running through the dense woods are countless long stone walls, no longer marking fields or pastures, but evidence of both the toil of the farmers and the return to nature of the cleared land.

While the return to nature appears complete, some exotic plants that were planted by the farm families near their homesteads have taken over sections of the understory, especially prickly stands of barberry.  Here on the Jones farm stood, until a few years ago, a majestic (and non-native) Norway spruce, a landmark that every hiker looked for.  Its trunk snapped in a storm.  Just behind the spruce’s broken trunk hides the entrance to a root cellar, facing east to catch the light of the rising sun.

Like the Hudson Valley itself, Harriman Park is rich in history, anthropology and geology.  And it cries out to the hiker to take a path less travelled.

Photos by Jerry White of The Staging Prince. This article, like many posted here, highlights recreational activities for Hudson Valley residents.   We invite you to sign up for our free monthly newsletter for Hudson Valley homeowners.

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