Monday, March 4, 2013

A Sprawling State Park, A Family's Gift

Lake Sebago, Harriman State Park
(photo/Jaimie Moscarello)

By Jaimie Moscarello

The second largest state park in New York is over 44,000 acres. It has over 200 miles of hiking trails, 31 lakes and reservoirs, three beaches, two public camping areas, streams and scenic roads for miles and a thriving habitat for wildlife. Where is it? Harriman State Park, the heart of the Palisades Interstate Park system and a large part of the headwaters for the Ramapo River.

Harriman is the largest park in the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC). The park has wheelchair accessible fishing, ice fishing, boat launches, cross-country skiing facilities, showers, a gift shop, museum/visitor’s center, playing fields, cabins, grills and picnic areas and is the host of a variety of children’s camps. 

Harriman State Park, near Sloatsburg, NY  (photo/Jan Barry)

In 1908, the Commission on New Prisons made plans to build a new prison at Bear Mountain. In January of 1909, the state of New York purchased 740 acres of Bear Mountain to build a new Sing Sing Prison. Edward Harriman, railroad mogul and his wife, Mary Averell Harriman, strongly opposed the state’s prison plan. The couple’s estate, 30,000 acres in Arden, New York was nearby.

After the death of her husband in 1910, Mary Harriman wrote a letter to the governor, Charles Evans Hughes, proposing she donate 10,000 acres of land in Orange and Rockland counties and $1 million in cash to construct a new state park. In return, the state would dispose of their plan for the prison and grant $2.5 million for more land and to build facilities for the park. Later, other titans of industry including John D. Rockefellar, J. Piermont Morgan and William Vanderbilt contributed to create the park and do away with the prison.

Major William A. Welch from Kentucky became General Manager and Chief Engineer of the Palisades Interstate Park and began construction on a road from Bear Mountain to Sloatsburg, today known as Seven Lakes Drive in 1913. Welch built 23 lakes, 100 miles of roads and 103 children’s camps. One of the seven lakes, Lake Welch Beach, is named for the Major.

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided labor to build roads, trails, camps and lakes in the park. In the 1960’s, more roads into the park were constructed. A steamboat service from Manhattan to Bear Mountain offered round trip tickets to the park, only 85 cents for adults and 45 cents for children.

For more information about visiting the park, go to or call (845) 786-2701. 

No comments:

Post a Comment