The battle started in the early 1990s, when construction of a Wal-Mart was proposed for the site directly across Route 9 from the entrance to Springwood, FDR’s former residence. The public outrage that ensued eventually morphed into a long and well-orchestrated campaign by Scenic Hudson and its affiliated Land Trust to pluck critical parcels of the FDR land legacy off the market, sit on them for a while and begin to restore old trail corridors before finally turning them over to federal and state agencies. The keystone was a 336-acre wooded parcel on the east side of Route 9 that extended all the way to Val-Kill; it had once served as the Roosevelts’ tree plantation, and its Farm Lane had been the primary link between Franklin and Eleanor’s favored retreats. Scenic Hudson acquired it in 2004 and sold it at a loss to the NPS in 2007. Additional buffer lands to protect what is now called the Hyde Park Trail were preserved by Scenic Hudson in 2008.
Today, the Hyde Park Trail is a growing ten-mile system of trails and walkways linking Town parks, nature preserves and NPS sites with local neighborhoods and the Town’s central business corridor. It is also designated part of the Hudson Valley Greenway Trail. Although final plans for the long-dreamt-of central tourism hub on the Drive-In site have been delayed by the Town of Hyde Park’s perpetually seesawing party politics, many people are catching on to the fact that a node of trails has already been established that is extensive enough to provide much exploration, healthy exercise and enjoyment of the area’s rich local history.
In fact, for the past five years, a program called the Hyde Park Healthy Trails Walkabout has been in effect, offering sew-on patches to those who complete all 11 segments of a 16.8-mile network of trails that includes the Hyde Park Trail as well as connecting paths in the Winnakee Nature Preserve and town parks like Pinewoods and Hackett Hill. It also includes trails in Mills-Norrie State Park that are not yet directly connected to the rest of the system by pedestrian paths – although the Winnakee Land Trust is currently working on the acquisition of trail easements that will eventually give hikers, joggers and snowshoers continuous access from the Vanderbilt Mansion Historic Site to Norrie Point.
The way it used to work was that you could earn one patch for each year that you certified that you completed five of the eleven trails in the Walkabout. The patches are quite snazzy in design: The one from 2006 depicts a tulip tree leaf and blossom, from 2007 FDR’s Top Cottage, from 2008 a wild columbine, from 2009 a Native American watching Henry Hudson’s Half Moon and from 2010 the Hyde Park mastodon. Now, the good folks running the program are making a special one-time offer: Hike all 11 trails by April 21 and they’ll throw in all five patches!
Qualifying for the patches is done by an honor system; all you have to do is download the Walkabout map at www.hydeparkny.us/Recreation/Trails/WalkaboutTrails.pdf and track your progress on the attached checklist, then turn in your completed scorecard to the Hyde Park Town Recreation Office at Hackett Hill. The nominal fee of $5 helps with maintenance of the trail system. For more details visit www.hydeparkny.us/notices/AllFivePatches.pdf. Come on – when was the last time you earned yourself a merit badge?