Monthly Archives: October 2015

A Visit to Val-Kill


One of the estate’s wooded trails

This last week I visited Val-Kill, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic site, located in Hyde Park, New York. Upon entering the park, a ranger greeted us offering a brochure on Val-Kill with some useful background information on the site, accompanied by a brief biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. Even before her position as first lady, Roosevelt played a significant role in social  welfare and civil rights movements, as demonstrated in the history of Val-Kill. Created in the mid-1920s, Val-Kill was in part a place for Roosevelt to test her progressive ideas. In 1926 Roosevelt and three of her friends founded Val-Kill industries as a way to provide farmers and their families with marketable crafting skills to supplement their income. Among other things, the local makers were instructed in furniture construction and pewter working. This model, in fact, became the basis for New Deal programs to come.

In 1936, Val-Kill Industries was converted into a private estate for personal leisure—outdoor recreation and retreats with family and friends. Eleanor Roosevelt was also an avid writer and many of the 27 books she has authored were written at Val-Kill.


A view of the Top Cottage

Along with the information on Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal history, the brochure comes with a map of the estate and trails. Located on the Fall-Kill creek, the grounds include several cottages, a pond, a rose garden, tennis court, and swimming pool. Though easily accessible by car off of Route 9, Val-Kill feels private and secluded. Most of the estate is wooded, and the ambling trails that traverse the property are only lightly marked. Following the brochure, we chose to hike the Top Cottage trail, about one mile each way. Walking through the woods of Val-Kill, I almost had the impression that I was simply ambling, rather than following a trail—not only
is the path barely marked, it also meanders, going up and down hills, twisting and turning. In terms of the ecology of the region, coniferous pines make up a good portion of the forested area, along with white oaks and maples. The understory—bushes, sapling, and groundcover—is minimal, indicating that this area is an older growth forest. The large deer population in Dutchess County also keeps understory growth to a minimum. The terrain of the area is rocky—hard slate and stones abound. This is evidenced in the architecture of the estate as well—stone walls characteristic of the Hudson Valley traverse the grounds, and even the entire Top Cottage is built of stone. Walking the trail, one feels that there’s something new o discover around every turn; it’s easy to see how this would make for a pleasant nature retreat for Mrs. Roosevelt and her guests, and what draws many tourists to the park today.


One of the few sign posts designating the trail direction!

Val-Kill is approximately only a 20-minute drive north from Poughkeepsie, making the Metro-North and Amtrak train lines a convenient means of transport from New York City to the park. In May through October, there is also a free shuttle service between the Metro-North Poughkeepsie stop, Val-Kill, and the FDR Estate. This service helps to facilitate tourism opportunities, likely encouraging New York City day trips to the region, especially for those that may not have cars or want to drive. If you want to learn more about Val-Kill, go to


The Culinary Institute of American (A Visit to the CIA)

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The center to the acclaimed food region that is the Hudson Valley comes in a drive up route 9 past the town of Poughkeepsie and on the edge of FDR’s Hyde Park: the Culinary Institute of America. The campus itself looks more like a piece of french royalty then the Hudson Valley farm esthetic but truth remains that this place offers some of the most famous education in food service world. Walking around its massive stone courtyard, with the fountain spraying idly behind me I looked out at the Hudson River and recalled the long history of western cuisine to this country. I am not a student here but I wondered what it was like to work and learn the western traditions of cooking in a place whose legacy was and is about the local food and history of America. The Hudson Valley was once the home of early settlers, learning off the land, eating off the land, and now here sits a gleaming institute of tradition born across the ocean. The CIA looked the contradiction: a confused European estate in a hudson valley tree line.

Around me many students scurried off with white chef jackets buttoned tight and primely cleaned. A satchel of well tended kitchen knives and tools strapped to their backs as they hurried late to class. My friends and I were more interested in coffee and a quick snack after our morning hike and found ourselves wandering into the front doors towards the Apple Pie Bakery.


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The Apple Pie Bakery is the playing ground for hopeful bakers, dessert chefs and baristas along with a busy kitchen of line cooks and waiters all being graded for their service every day. The scene was clean and quaint, not small and cozy but of high class cafe with classic French baguettes scored to perfection and golden glowing American apple pies displayed in an order glass case. The line was out the door as a nervous hostess offered us samples of chocolate and menus explaining the local beers offered, the daily soup and fanciful takes on sandwiches and french fries.

As we slowly moved up the line, I was taken aback by the overpriced granola and gourmet chocolates lining the entryway. Though lovely, I wondered who could come here and actually enjoy all these students hard work. Once to the register, I ordered a coffee, was handed a number and stepped to the side. There I looked around at who was here enjoying this Monday afternoon visit: many older groups of well loved friends, 3 or so Marist students shuffling away on their laptops and a family or two. But the trend was clear: this was a destination for an older crowd. I saw no young locals nor too many students and only observed the wandering conversations of many folk above the age of 50. This was not a local destination, it appeared to be a tourist cafe based on an exhibition of the “ideal” rather then the genuine.

Now I did enjoy my visit, it was very fancy and exciting but I left wondering how true to the Hudson Valley this place was and how much the lessons taught emphasized the history of the region. How is the CIA connected to Poughkeepsie and Hyde Park? How is it connected to the world? How does it consider its environment and what are its aims?

The CIA has a long history in promoting what it means to turn eating and cooking into an art and preserves the values of creativity  of the movement. I just wondered who has access to this attempt at “sustaining the environment and its food” (the slogan the school poses for itself). The Hudson Valley is at this conflict in its tourist economy, local social issues, and environmental history: the CIA paints itself very much as a piece of the confusion of a Hudson Valley identity.


Adventures at Madava Farms


Entrance gate with pumpkin and cabbage decoration

Madava Farms Entrance

Located in the quaint town of Dover, New York, is the new and prospering Madava Farms, home to the maple syrup company, Crown Maple. The Madava Property is covered in 800 acres of maple trees, but the Crown Maple company now operates 2,000 acres with the addition of its satellite properties. For the next season, they hope to expand from 50,000 taps to 100-120,000 tree taps.

The Madava property was bought by Robb and Lydia Turner in 2007. The story goes that Robb and Lydia bought the land so that their daughters, Ava and Maddie, who were growing up in New York City, could enjoy the beauty of nature in the Hudson Valley. The name Madava was created as a combination of the two girls’ names. However, when the property’s neighbor informed Mr. Turner that he was now owner of one of the most highly concentrated forests of high-quality maple trees in the area, known as the Taconic Hardwood Forest. He decided then to begin Crown Maple at Madava. Ten years later, Madava farms has become one of the world’s highest quality producers of organic maple syrup and a renowned tourist destination in the Hudson Valley.


Maple syrup season, oddly enough, lasts only for 30 days, from the end of February through March. This is the time of year when sap in the trees is liquid, so that a temperature difference between the sap and air allows it to flow from the taps into the collection pipes. Crown Maple has a unique pipe system between the trees that collects syrup from the 50,000 taps they have, and delivers it to holding tanks inside their facility.

Tour guide in front of Machinary

Tour guide Jamie describing the reverse osmosis and Dissolved Air Flotation Devices.

In a single day, the farm crew of 8-10 people will tap anywhere between 200-500 trees in order to collect around 60,000 gallons a day of sap. The sap is processed and purified through a unique reverse osmosis and a dissolved air flotation unit, then moved to an evaporator. These processes remove over 90% of the water from the sap, to create a syrup that is between 66-68% sugar. A syrup that contains below 66% sugar will grow bacteria because of the water content, and a syrup that contains over 68% sugar will crystallize. These standards are set by the USDA. In order to create 1 gallon of maple syrup, it takes around 40-50 gallons of sap.

Osmosis Tank.

Osmosis Tank.

Madava as a destination

Holding small cup with Syrup.

Madava’s Light Maple Syrup.

To drive into the Madava estate is to enter one of the Hudson Valleys hidden gems of preserved natural beauty and agricultural production. The 800 acres of maple trees, farm operation, and scenic space is the perfect place for anything between relaxing weekend get-aways to weddings and anniversaries. Madava Farms offers a comprehensive tour of their facilities where you can enter and witness everything from the four 10,000 gallon holding containers to the sophisticated RO system. The tour ends with a intimate tasting of their four, now prize winning, world renown syrups. You can also enjoy their maple inspired provisions like a Crown Maple Latte at their cafe. Once you have indulged your sweet tooth, take a nature walk through their well groomed public trails and enjoy breathtaking scenescapes and vibrant ponds.

Whether you come for the syrup, the views, or the maple trees, Madava Farms offers a unique Hudson Valley experience, which sets it apart from any other maple syrup farm in the nation and the world. For information on directions and visiting, visit the Madava Farms Website.

Guy looking at Bottles of Syrup

Looking for the Perfect Syrup.

Women drinking syrup.

Enjoying syrup samples at the end of the Madava tour.


Independent Field Trip to Mount Beacon Park

About a 45 minute drive south of Poughkeepsie, Dutchess Country’s city of Beacon, New York has a beautiful backdrop: Beacon Mountain, known locally as Mount Beacon. Mount Beacon is the highest peak of the Hudson Highlands mountain range, overlooking the Hudson River and the Hudson Valley. It has northern and southern summits at an elevation of 1,531 feet and 1,610 feet above sea level, respectively (x).

One crisp Sunday morning in mid-September, some friends and I piled into my car and arrived at our destination around 11AM. The parking lot was already pretty full, demonstrating the popularity of this destination, but luckily we found free spots. Make sure you get there relatively early if you don’t want to be parked along the road.

The hike up North Beacon begins with a long metal staircase that really gets your lactic acid flowing before you even make it to the real trail. The first stretch of the hike is a bit steep and you’ll be doing some clambering over rocks and boulders, but it is totally manageable for most people. We saw a wide range of people handle it just fine, from college kids and seasoned hikers to small children and older folk. This part of the trail ascends along the Mount Beacon Incline Railway, built in 1902, which was the first electrified incline and at one point the world’s steepest incline. It was one of the Hudson Valley’s prime tourist attractions, ridden by over 3.5 million visitors during its 75 year span of operation, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1983. Mount Beacon Park is maintained in cooperation with the Mount Beacon Incline Railway Restoration Society, which is working to restore it. You can read more about the history of the incline railway in this 2011 New York Times article.

When you reach the first summit, you find the ruins of the incline’s powerhouse and a scenic overlook to the Hudson River and the city below. The mountain and the city were named for the signal fires lit on top of the mountain during the Revolutionary War that served as beacons to warn of British troop movements, and word on the street is that there is a monument at the site of the original signal fire erected by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1901.


ruins of the incline powerhouse


view from the first overlook

It would be about a 2.4 mile (1.5 hours) round trip journey to the overlook, but our hike was far from over! It was onwards and upwards. The trail gets a bit less steep after this point (well, mostly at least) which was helpful after we took the wrong fork in the trail. But eventually we made it all the way to our destination: Mount Beacon fire tower! This brought it up 4.4 miles (3 hours) round trip.


Mount Beacon fire tower

We stopped to eat a snack and take in the breathtaking 360-degree views of the Hudson Valley. When we were there everything was still green, but I am looking forward to going back now that the trees are beginning to change colors. If you happen to be afraid of heights, you can see pretty much the same view without going up the extra 500 feet of the fire tower… but you already hiked all the way there, so you might as well, right? At least that was the philosophy that managed to take me to the top! Apparently this fire tower was renovated in June 2013 to include stairs (very nice and sturdy stairs, in fact!) for which I am eternally grateful.


it was rather windy up there!

Atop the fire tower, you could basically see everything: the Catskills and the Beacon Reservoir (the city’s main water source) to the northwest, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and the Gunks to the west, the Hudson Highlands to the south, and — on a clear day like the one we were lucky enough to be there on — you can even see New York City in the distance. There was no way to capture that on camera, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.


City of Beacon


Beacon Reservoir




taking in the view

For more information: Scenic Hudson – Mount Beacon.

By Natalie DiCenzo


The Trevor Zoo


Entrance to the zoo

The only zoo in the country to be found on a high school campus, the Trevor Zoo, is located at the private Millbrook School in Millbrook, NY. About a 40-minute drive from Vassar, the zoo and school is nestled into rolling wooded hills. I made the trip up there this Sunday with a couple friends.


The sign for the zoo

Walking into the zoo, we paid the $5 admission, and I asked the girl behind the table about the zoo. She told me that in 1936, a biology teacher (Frank Trevor) envisioned it as a means to inspire students to care about animals and wildlife. Almost a century later, the students are still the main caretakers at the zoo. The zoo only has 3-4 full-time professional staff members and the students do all the rest. Underclassmen are assigned animals to feed and monitor, while older students act as curators of the exhibits.

The zoo itself contains 80 different species of animals, 9 of which are labeled as endangered species. The zoo takes part in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) that was developed by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums to encourage breeding of endangered species in captivity and ensure healthy and genetically diverse captive populations. The 9 endangered species at the zoo are: Lake Victoria Cichlids, Black and White Ruffed Lemurs, Ring-Tailed Lemurs, White Naped Cranes, Kaiser’s Spotted Newt, Red Panda, Blanding’s Turtle, Red Wolf, and the Golden Lion Tamarin.


River otter

The zoo has animals from six continents, but the most represented is North America, specifically the Northeast. It is fitting that the Northeast be so heavily represented considering the original mission of the zoo. By providing students and visitors with close encounters with local species, the zoo helps to increase awareness and empathy for the animals. Some of the animals represented are come across quite often in the Hudson Valley, like the wild turkey and the red tailed hawk, but others are harder to spot like the Bobcat and the Barred Owl. Each animal exhibit has its own key card that provides vital statistics on each species represented. Information that can be found on the cards includes behavioral habits, human impact on the species, and whether or not the animal is endangered. Sprinkled throughout the trails are also informational signs about the continent represented in that particular section. These signs explain to the visitor more about biomes of the continent and the consequences of human impact and climate change on the region.





Wild Turkeys in captivity



One of the exhibit key cards

Our meandering stroll through the exhibits ended up at the Jonathan and Jane Meigs Education Center, which is really just two large open rooms. Here can be found a few more small exhibits with lizards, snakes, and fish. The main purpose of the center seems to be to educate visitors on the effects of climate change on species and ecosystems both close to home in the Hudson Valley and beyond. It is the perfect end to a walk through the zoo. The center engages the visitor to think critically about their visit and the fate of the species they saw in their time spent here. It helps to stress the Trevor Zoo as an active environmental advocate and urges the visitor to also take part in the environmental movement.




Climate change info boards at the education center


By: Lydia Gold