By Wayne A. Hall, Times Herald-Record, link to original post
Highway maps show Stewart State Forest spread like a huge, green 6,700-plus-acre paradise next to Stewart International Airport.
You’re a few pedal pushes away from 40 miles of gravel and dirt trails celebrated by mountain bikers, hailed by naturalists and praised by sportsmen. “Oh, man! On a busy weekend I’ve seen 250 people riding out there,” says George Zubalsky, owner of Montgomery-based Dark Horse Cycles, who also rides these lands himself. “I see license plates in the Weed Road parking lot from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, all over,” he says. Most with mountain bike racks.
In other words, this green jewel about eight times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park is full of surprises and delights. In its now overgrown farm fields, ponds, and deep woods swamps are 42 species of mammals, including the endangered Indiana bat.
There are also 60 species of breeding birds and 15 species of salamanders and frogs, plus 11 reptiles. Ten threatened bird species, including the pied-billed grebe, live in the preserve. It is owned and run by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Tuxedo naturalist John Yrizarry, says, “Stewart’s got a superb assortment of habitats.” He conducted a biological survey of the park. “It’s got everything from insects to snakes to birds, the whole works,” he says. In fact, Zabalsky’s seen a 12-point buck, mink, silver and red fox. “I’ve seen black bear in there several times,” he says.
On the volunteer-maintained trails “a gorgeous fall” could await Stewart users, says retired DEC forester Fred Gerty, who rides his horse, Chief, there regularly.
Keep an eye out for the crumbling foundations, old stone walls and immense oaks and Norway spruces planted long ago by farm families ousted when they were dispossessed by the state for an airport expansion that never happened — 1,200 people and 337 houses were bought out in the 1970s when the land was expected to become New York City’s fourth major airport.
Now, trails for hiking, biking, and just plain foot wandering lead to hidden ponds, old orchards, forested glens and dragonfly-buzzed wetlands. “It’s just amazing out there,” says jogger Peter Chernek, a City of Newburgh medical supplies deliverer fascinated by what he saw one day at a pond. “I saw a snake at a pond eating a small fish,” he recalled. “It caught me off guard.”
Plus, Stewart’s a mecca for big-game hunters, trappers, horseback riders and sporting-dog clubs who train and evaluate their dogs at Stewart.
And there’s plenty of room for everyone. Stewart was basically saved from planned development by a lawsuit filed in 2000 by the Stewart Park and Reserve Coalition, a still active network of park users including sportsmen, nature lovers, hikers, mountain bikers and snowmobilers.
Stewart state forest, says the DEC, is now “a premier outdoor destination.” Which is why Stewart gets newcomers all the time.
Such as West Point history instructor Lt. Col. Gail Yoshitani and her sons, Evan, 11, and Davis, 9, who hailed their first 90 minutes on the trail as “beautiful and very fragrant with wild flowers,” she said. “We had a great ride.”
Stewart State Forest
How to get there: You can reach the forest by several routes, taking I-84 east, to the Route 747 Exit, going south to Route 207, hanging a right for about a mile, and turning into Stewart’s Weed Road parking lot. Or follow Route 17K to Ridge Road and follow that to its end. Or Google “Stewart state forest map.” The most popular is Weed Road, at the southern end off Route 207 in New Windsor. Take Exit 17 or the Thruway Exit from I-84 and follow signs to Stewart International Airport and continue west on Route 207.
Don’t miss: The information kiosks at trailheads.
Be aware: Take plenty of water, sun protection gear, and good hiking or biking shoes. Bring binoculars if you can. The park is closed to the general public during big-game season, from about mid-Nov. to mid-Dec.