Sugar House Saturday

Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, all 4,315-acres of it, is Westchester County’s largest park. And it is truly enormous.

First off I want to say that the kids are really growing to be terrific hikers. When we got home this afternoon, the girls and I took a piece of mason’s line, traced our morning’s route on the map and then measured it on scale. We hiked two miles! That may not sound like much, but for a group of kids whose average age is probably somewhere around 5 1/3, it’s impressive. Equally impressive is the general absence of whining on our hikes, and though my middle one began to struggle near the end leaving me to schlep her up the hill with the babe on my back, they all did very well for such a long hike.

And we had another great turn out today, which was again a happy surprise given that Ward Pound Ridge is Westchester County’s northernmost park. Three cheers for all the families who joined us!

The Reservation (not a Native American reservation, but an area ‘reserved’ for plants and animals) was named after the pound that the Indians kept on the land for animals.The Indians built an enclosure of saplings and drove the game into the pound. According to NYNJCT botony online, the name Ward comes from the powerful Westchester politician William “Boss” Ward. In 1925, through his foresight, forty-one hundred acres were acquired by the Westchester County Park Commission. He is also credited for creating, with the park commission, an overall plan for recreational ares in Westchester County. So there you have it, Craig!

The reserve hosts 35-miles of hiking trails, some of them self-guided nature walks, a nature museum and a wildflower garden. The varied terrain takes visitors through woodlands and meadows, past streams, caves and Native American petroglyphs, over open fields and through the woods. It is also a habitat for myriad breeding birds and the premier butterfly watching area in NY State. Who knew?

We set out along a portion of the Fox Hill trail that connects to the Brown Trail along the Cross River. Aside from the beautiful landscape and tranquility that comes from hiking along a rushing stream, we encountered MUD. Lots of mud and puddles good for stomping and general sploogery. We paused frequently along the trail to toss sticks and stones into the stream, to explore the thawing beds of ice alongside the stream, and to gape a bit at the remains of a deer in a wooded portion of the trail. The adults had varying theories about the demise of said deer, and earlier tonight I read that folks don’t see as many deer in the reservation as they might in their own backyards because of the quantity of predators, namely coyote and bobcat, making the reservation their home.

I also noticed today how our kids are learning to read trail maps and blazes. They were all really into their maps today, watching for the numbered trail junctions telling us when we needed to change course. Their enthusiasm was good, because I myself am a bit cartographically-challenged. It seems that honing up on my map reading will be a beneficial take-away for me to!

About 3/4 of the way through our hike, a group of us spotted a playground just off the trail, and the kids took a break from the walking to romp and slide and swing and play. They discovered a teepee-like arrangement of branches in the woods, and quickly took up residence on the log stools left inside by the previous owners.

Just outside of the Trailside Nature Museum, where we congregated for the morning’s hike, there is an ampitheater of sorts made up of log benches. After the hike our group sat together to eat a picnic lunch, revel in joy of the warm, warm weather, and listen to a story about making maple syrup.Just off to the side stood the reservation’s sugar house, where the sap that we saw being collected from maples at the beginning of our hike was boiling away to be turned into syrup. We learned that it takes nearly 40-gallons of sap to produce only a single gallon of syrup. We also learned through a taste test given to us by one of the reserve’s naturalists, that we prefer real maple sugar to the Aunt Jemima, non-food sort!

And so, our long morning ended with sweetness on our palates and a hankering for the next hike.

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