The Road Not Taken: A Story of Environmental Preservation

By Town Supervisor George Hoehmann

One of my favorite poets is the late Robert Frost.  Frost is a legendary Pulitzer Prize winning poet who also received a Congressional Gold Medal for his life’s work in 1960. He is likely best remembered for his famous poem “The Road Not Taken.” The poem tells the story of a traveler who comes to a fork in the road in a wooded area and ponders which direction to go. He looks down each path and contemplates what lies ahead. After a while, he observes that one road has clearly been more heavily traveled than the other.  After thinking long and hard he decides to take the road that is less traveled and slightly overgrown. The poem concludes as follows; “I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence; two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”  It is a masterpiece of American poetry that is both synonymous with and analogous to major life changes and decision points. It is without a doubt one of my favorite poems; I love the hidden meaning it carries.

I thought of Frost’s poem as we dedicated the first new park in Clarkstown in twenty years: the Bear Swamp Preserve and Nature Trail. On Tuesday, we officially cut the ribbon and unveiled this wonderful new four-plus acre park that will serve as a gateway to the larger county-owned 83 acre Mountainview Nature Preserve. The Mountainview Nature Preserve is one of the best kept secrets in Town with miles of trails that provide exceptional views of West Nyack, lower Rockland and the Hudson River. It is accessible from Greenbush Road behind the old Journal News property. It has a leg of the Long Path but unfortunately is not nearly as well-known or utilized partly due to a lack of access from Mountainview Avenue. The Bear Swamp Preserve and Nature Trail, with its new parking lot, swamp and pond area, forest and meadow provides direct access from the heavily populated Mountainview Condominiums, home to thousands of residents.  

The story of how this park came to be really is a story of a “road not typically taken.” Namely, in 2016 the St. Peter’s Syro-Malankara Church had acquired this environmentally sensitive 4.3 acre parcel and proposed to erect an 11,000 square foot building with 56 parking spaces, which would have forever eliminated the serene setting. Almost immediately, residents sprang into action forming the Mountainview Preservation group, which collected thousands of signatures in opposition. These residents included Peggy Freeman, Joy Wallen, Billie Berman, Christiana Huber, Darryl Eason, Edward Mooney and Lisa Lundgren. In addition others from the community came forward, including Antonia Sambevski a Valley Cottage mother and Girl Scout troop leader, who also raised the alarm. This grassroots activism was essential to assisting the town and me in convincing the church leadership to abandon their plans to develop the property. Eventually, working with the Church, we moved to acquire the property for $230,000 in late 2017. It was a victory for the town and its people in forever protecting this environmentally sensitive space.  

Last year we finalized plans to transform the property. Utilizing mainly Town staff, we demolished the old, deteriorated single family home on the front edge of the property and installed an entry driveway and six car parking lot. The Town Highway Department trucked in several thousand yards of clean fill to cap off where the house was, creating a space to plant a natural flower meadow that gently slopes down from the road to the edge of the water. This is just one of the many efforts we have undertaken to preserve the quality and character of our town. These include enhanced code enforcement, new building and zoning laws and regulations and a real commitment to property acquisition, which includes 21 acres at the former Rockland Country Day School, the Grace Baptist Church, the Marydell property in Upper Nyack that is now part of Hook Mountain, and the dramatic expansion of the West Nyack Hamlet Green which is currently underway. 

However, I am most proud of the involvement of our young people through the Nyack High School Environmental Club and their advisor, teacher Tom Perry, on this project. Students received training and guidance from our Town Planning and Engineering Departments and staff from my office. After several Zoom meetings this winter, the students were prepared to assist in the placement of flags to create the trails. Our Town GIS staff and police worked collaboratively to map the trails that now connect into the existing trails at the Mountainview Nature Preserve. Working together, Town and County staff along with these 40 students helped to identify, plan and orient the trails. Even while they were off from school last week, a number of these students along with many other volunteers from the Mountainview Preservation Group, met to further cleanup the property. Mr. Perry and one student boldly trudged through the water area wearing hip waders, pulling out debris including tires and old car parts. 

This past weekend the Mountainview Preservation Group made one last contribution toward beautifying the new park. The group held a fundraiser to raise funds to include an information kiosk and specialized Knickerbocker bench made from natural materials, to welcome visitors and provide a place to rest after their walk. These items will be built and installed inside the park later this season. 

This experience closely mirrors the options and decisions the traveler encounters in the “Road Not Taken.”  In 2016 we had a fork in the road and could have taken one of two paths: the first leading to an unwelcome development of an environmentally sensitive area; the second leading to the preservation of open space and a new nature park. Thankfully, during my time as Supervisor we chose the road less traveled—and as the poet echoed all those years ago, and that has made all the difference.

Photo provided by Town of Clarkstown