At the southern edge of Peekskill sits Westchester’s second-largest county park that attracts national attention because of its mountain biking trails, but its man-made amenities look like they are trapped in the 1950’s.
The 1,500 acre park is in need of an upgrade to bring it into the 21st century and a group of citizens and elected representatives spent the last three months brainstorming ways that could happen.
In the summer, County Executive George Latimer reached out to Peekskill Councilwoman Kathie Talbot and asked her to put together a list of concerns that the county might be able to influence. Talbot identified Blue Mountain Reservation as an area that needed some attention and had the potential to become a real destination and economic driver for the Peekskill and Cortlandt communities.
The county is currently taking out $4.15 million in bonds to finance the design, construction and management of various improvements at the park located at the end of Washington Street and Welcher Avenue. These include new electric, water and sanitary sewer services to the various buildings, pathway improvements, pedestrian bridges and related site work and landscaping, all financed from the county’s current year capital budget.
Talbot invited Cortlandt Town Council members Rich Becker and Jim Creighton along with Zoning Board member Cristin Jacoby to the group along with Peekskill Councilwoman Patricia Riley, Cortlandt resident Eric Larrabbee and Peekskill resident Andrew Barthelmes to join the task force. Peekskill Councilman Dwight Douglas came on as a consultant at the end because he is familiar with the Westchester County Parks Department and sits on the Westchester County Planning Board.
The task force looked at their work as an opportunity to consider ways to increase usage of the park, build on its strengths, improve its features and add attractions and amenities to boost its value. In doing their research, the group found that the dividing line between Cortlandt and Peekskill runs straight through the park’s Lounsbury Pond.
After their initial meeting in September at the park, the group started imagining ways to re-energize the park. The product, presented to Latimer in late November, is a 14-page concept document with lots of pictures and ideas. The document was presented to Peekskill’s Common Council by Talbot at the December 21 committee of the whole work session.
When they toured the park, they saw the outdated and deteriorating bathhouse/concession stand which they dubbed an ‘eyesore’ in their report. “Prominently located next to the lake, parking lot and ball field, it is one of the first things a visitor sees upon entering the parking area,” they reported. Wobbly picnic tables need to be removed immediately as they are hazardous. About a dozen new ones are recommended. They also noted the poor signage throughout the park. “Signage needs to be evaluated for conformity, quantity and to provide direction to the new park features and amenities. Additional directional signage for hiking trails is recommended as well as signage to encourage a ‘Take In – Take Out’ policy,” said the report.
Highlights in their document include creating a park space for large and small dogs in an area of the park that is adjacent to the playground. It would be convenient and a plus for families using the playground. It would also extend the use of the park to new members of the community. Suggested amenities include fencing to separate big from little dogs, agility equipment, benches for dog owners as well as water fountains for dogs and humans.
Using the natural layout of the land adjacent to the children’s playground for an amphitheater would attract small informal community concerts, plays or just stimulate children’s imaginations. Many parks take advantage of using natural land features in this way. It would be of modest size, built into an existing sloped hill and constructed with natural materials of wood and rock to seamlessly blend into surroundings.
Blue Mountain Reservation is nationally known for its mountain biking trails and the proposal recommends working with trail design experts and members of the Westchester Mountain Biking Association to create an expert mountain biking course. “This would include redesigning these trails to include popular features such as bank turns, small jumps, “see-saws”, and/or technical boardwalk areas”. The course would be limited to a very specific section of the park, and marked appropriately so less experienced riders do not accidentally stumble into it. “One appropriate location…could be the area just southwest of the western parking lot which is the parking area used most by mountain bikers. Another possibility is making an existing trail, such as the “Limbo” trail, into a skills course. This would minimize the disturbance to the existing forest and enhance an existing expert trail with additional challenges,” reads the report.
The taskforce members noted the popularity of Geocaching which is the world’s largest treasure hunt and a fun adventure that engages children and adults alike to explore the park, nature and the trails. There are more than three million geocaches hidden all around the world in parks, trails and urban areas. Geocaching will promote the park, engage the community and encourage exploration of the park, trails and other natural resources at Blue Mountain Reservation. Participants can become treasure hunters using the powerful technology on smartphones or GPS units.
Installing Remote Power Units is an excellent green, cost-saving, practical amenity that will bring the park into the 21st century.
These units work well near playgrounds, dog parks, sports fields and other areas where people congregate, as well as “off the beaten path.” For lighting and USB charging, these wind/solar-powered units eliminate the need for trenching electric service into remote areas while providing convenience and safety – and can even power a wireless internet connection.
Another imaginative idea for re-energizing Blue Mountain Park is the addition of kayak docks in the pond if swimming is not feasible. The beach area can be beautified with native, water friendly plants that will attract birds and wildlife. The construction of a dock and nature trail with educational and environmental signage will attract walkers, disabled persons, families and school classes. The nature trail could be used by students to learn about wildlife habitats and native plants as well as a beautiful place to observe nature.
A proposed nature trail would start at the kayak dock and go south along the edge of the water to an island and connect to the existing Blue Mountain Summit Trail near the sports field to create a loop around the lower pond.
If the existing bathhouse can be reused, it could also provide kayak and bike rentals. If it can’t be reused, a new smaller structure could be built that would allow for rentals making kayaking accessible for park visitors.
The document will be the subject of a meeting with Talbot’s taskforce and county parks officials at the end of January.
By Regina Clarkin