By Jenny Lee Fowler (Recycled from March 2013, Edition 1)
Photographed by Jackson Summers
My husband came with a lot of books. Some of them had belonged to his grandparents, and they were very old and very heavy with lots of gold along the spines. Within the boxes of books was a set of the complete works of John Burroughs. At the time, I had no idea who this man was or why I might want 23 volumes of his antique thoughts. And then I came across this small sign quoting him on a trail and fell a bit in love: “If I were to name the three most precious resources of life, I should say books, friends, and nature; and the greatest of these, at least the most constant and always at hand, is nature.”
The John Burroughs Sanctuary is 200 acres nestled along the Shaupeneak Ridge in West Park, NY (Ulster County). It offers four miles of easy to moderate trails. The namesake refers to our own local Thoreau. Burroughs, born two decades after Thoreau in 1937, was a prolific literary naturalist who contributed to the budding consciousness of the conservation movement. The park is home to his rustic writing retreat, Slabsides, which is somewhat larger than the cabin at Walden Pond, somewhat farther from its own neighboring pond and somewhat less harassed by pilgrims.
Though its guest books (from 1897–1921) sport the names of hundreds of visitors—including John Muir, Thomas Edison and Theodore Roosevelt—today the cabin is only open to the public a few times a year, but the park remains a quiet refuge in all seasons from dusk to dawn.
Winter has a way of laying things bare. In summer this park is dappled in ferns and wildflowers under a shady canopy of deciduous and hemlock trees. Winter highlights the rocky outcroppings that mark this landscape. Take care if conditions are slippery or icy. There’s a lot of stone on these trails, but it’s worth navigating, and there are many boulders where you can stop and listen and take it all in. And the ups and downs along the Chodikee and Ridge Trails will warm you up!
Hikers who’ve visited before will notice significant improvements in the trail’s construction, including elegant stone stairways and a 70-foot boardwalk through the area known as the celery swamp. The work was funded under a matching grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and with the help of hundreds of hours of tough volunteer labor.
If you’re inspired to investigate what Burroughs had to say, you can check out the John Burroughs Hudson River Collection at the Town of Esopus Library off Canal Street in Port Ewen. For more information about John Burroughs’ work and events happening at the nature sanctuary, visit johnburroughsassociation.org. █