2013-07-03 / Front Page

Unbearably Beautiful Bear Mountain State Park

By Annie Chesnut

The Bear Mountain carousel sits in a classic Adirondack-style building.  All photos by Chris Layton.The Bear Mountain carousel sits in a classic Adirondack-style building. All photos by Chris Layton.If you’re looking for affordable places to go this summer on just a fraction of a tank of gas, don’t overlook Bear Mountain State Park.

Whether you come from Putnam or Dutchess via Route 9D, or from Westchester, via the Bear Mountain “goat trail” road, once you’ve crossed the Bear Mountain Bridge you have all but arrived.

The historic forested area is just a stone’s throw across the Hudson, offering Hessian Lake for boating and fishing, a huge playing field, a massive swimming pool (capacity, 1,600 people), picnic areas, trailside museum and zoo offering native endangered animals, a carousel featuring hand carved seats representing native animals as well as traditional horses, and even an ice skating rink in the wintertime. There is a boat dock on the Hudson—although tour boats to and from the park are much less frequent than they used to be—and you can fish down at the riverside, as well.

One of the native bears at the zoo.One of the native bears at the zoo.The PCN&R met with Park Manager Liz O’Loughlin, who was looking flushed from a day of outdoor assignments and was still wearing her state park ball cap. O’ Loughlin is a Yorktown native who literally grew up in the N.Y. State Parks system, beginning as a teenager at FDR State Park, and working her way around the greater metropolitan area before settling in at Bear Mountain five years ago. In the corner of her office is a brass carousel pole with a native turtle on it—a hint at what to expect at the park’s real carousel a few hundred feet away from the administration building.

Interestingly, she told us that 2013 is the park’s 100th anniversary, but not much is going on in the way of celebration, largely for budget reasons. Like everywhere else that’s funded by N.Y. State, money is tight.

Native bald eagle.Native bald eagle.Nevertheless, O’Loughlin is an enthusiastic spokesperson for all the park has to offer. Family- and kid-friendly events are frequent, including a big fireworks display on the last Friday in June, and for those who like to include an overnight or a tasty meal, there’s the recently restored but still rustic Bear Mountain Inn. Inside are a number of special-event rooms as well as a finely appointed gift shop and art gallery space.

O’Loughlin shared with us that the coyotes at the zoo will eventually be getting a much larger and more “natural” enclosure. Among their companions are (of course) bears, deer, reptiles, eagles, owls, and other large birds, all of which are native to the area.

Even on a June weekday before school had let out, there were lots of visitors around, enjoying the open fields, hiking, getting snacks at the concession stand, and visiting the Inn.

Picnicking is popular at the park, but if you want to barbecue, you should bring your own grill. Camping is not allowed, but is available close by at Harriman State Park,

If there’s one complaint you might hear from Bear Mountain visitors, it’s the $8-per-car parking and entry fee, but given the reasonable admission for swimming, the carousel, and boat rentals (visit here for pricing details) it’s a pretty good deal. Cycling is the one activity that may not be best suited for visitors, since only road biking is permitted—no off-road or mountain biking is allowed—and the roads and pathways are often congested. Dogs on leashes are permitted in the park but not at the pool or in the zoo.

Above and below right: Views of Hessian Lake. Above and below right: Views of Hessian Lake. Should you be happier sightseeing by car, the Perkins Memorial Drive and Tower are now open. Descendants of George Walbridge Perkins Sr., the first president of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, erected the tower 1,305 feet above the Hudson, with 360-degree panoramic views of four states on a clear day, including the Manhattan skyline and the Catskills. The observation floor has interpretive displays that describe the distant scenery.

And if you find yourself intrigued by all the park has to offer, you can enjoy it year-round. In the summertime, visitors come up from New York City to enjoy a day in the country; in the fall, there are leaf-peepers and hikers from around the region; at the popular Oktoberfest series of weekends, there are visitors from across the tri-state area; and in the winter, the local visitors predominate, with dogwalking and ice skating some of the favorite pastimes.

Whatever your pleasure, Bear Mountain is definitely worth a visit.

Zookeeper Jeff Zajac with a native turtle. Zookeeper Jeff Zajac with a native turtle.

The swimming pool.The swimming pool.

Photos by Chris Layton Photos by Chris Layton

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