The Hyde Park Trail: History in Motion
Photograph courtesy FDR Library
by Kathryn Matthews
“If beauty is good for the soul, then I wish I could have taken the whole world to walk with me early Saturday morning in the woods at Hyde Park,” Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote of her restorative walks at Val-Kill, her Dutchess County retreat. Dogwood trees in bloom, “little orange lizards” (salamanders) skittering about, a sea of wildflowers in bloom—the details of Val-Kill’s ever-changing landscape so captivated the First Lady that she shared them with readers of her nationally syndicated “My Day” column.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, the Hyde Park Trail, a nine-mile “through trail” linking all the National Park Service sites—the Vanderbilt Mansion; Springwood, the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt; Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s private getaway; FDR’s Top Cottage; and the Roosevelt Farm Lane—rests within the town of Hyde Park’s 16-mile trail system.
The impetus for developing the Hyde Park Trail began in the mid-1980s when the Polio Plus (a Rotary Club charity) and March of Dimes walk-a-thon participants, attempting to follow the trail between Springwood and the Vanderbilt Mansion, got lost. “They were turning up in other people’s backyards—that’s when we realized we needed a better trail system,” says Karl Beard of the National Parks Service.
The original 3.5 mile stretch, linking the FDR Home to the Vanderbilt Mansion, opened in 1991. In the ensuing two decades, its length has nearly tripled. The latest addition is the Roosevelt Farm Lane trail. On a recent 3.6 mile hike, my husband and I discovered that, on this parcel situated between Route 9 and the entrance to Val-Kill on Route 9G, FDR experimented with forestry, planting over a half-million trees over three decades. In the process, he’d acquired an understanding and appreciation of forestry that he later applied to the national tree-planting efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Roosevelt Farm Lane is the only part of the Hyde Park trail open to bicyclists.
On another hike within the system, we discovered that Riverfront Park, between the Vanderbilt Mansion and Springwood, parallels River Road, a public thoroughfare, before diverging onto the historic carriage roads and woodland paths that lead to each of those sites. The toughest trail is from Val-Kill, Eleanor’s retreat, to Top Cottage, where FDR entertained high-profile visitors, such as Winston Churchill and the king and queen of England. The trail is a steep and narrow, one hiker-wide, mile-long footpath.
We hoofed it all the way up and back; though, for the weary, there is a free shuttle bus service from May through October that stops at all the historic sites. which hikers can use to hitch a ride back to their parked cars. The only potential drawback; there could be a substantial wait.
Using new cell phone tours (845.475.3819) as their “guide,” hikers now get to listen, at designated spots along all six Hyde Park trails, to fact-filled highlights (example: the Atlantic sturgeon that were once commercially fished in the Hudson River at Hyde Park were so abundant that they became known as “Albany beef”). Alternatively, hikers can download audio podcasts to a computer, MP3 player, or iPod, for listening at home or later, while on the trail.
Hyde Park Trail Map
Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites
Daily, dawn to dusk; hikers/free
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt
4097 Albany Post Road (Route 9)
119 Vanderbilt Park Road
(2 miles north of the FDR Home on Route 9)
Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (Val-Kill)
Route 9G, 2 miles east of the FDR Home on Route 9