ROCKLAND LAKE, N.Y. – The once thriving hamlet where much of New York City’s ice was carved and shipped down the Hudson River until people bought refrigerators was, in the 1960s, obliterated through eminent domain to forge a state public park – blunt bulldozing for “progress” that could not easily happen today, even if Albany could pay for it. Now, almost 50 years later, years of under-funding and near bankruptcy have made parts of this park look more than sad.
Yet, yesterday there was hope, if not for Rockland Lake State Park, then for humankind as the 21st annual George Wodicka Hook Mountain Half Marathon and Hope 5K Run/Walk were held in March-like weather.
It was the sort of chilled sky and brisk air that old-time Rockland Lakers would have recognized: The cold water that provided local employment in winter was still lowering temperatures as if to delay its season’s end. Summer boaters and fishermen were next, then the buildup in fall to new income.
But that was then, now so long ago. The community was destroyed, its people, descendants of generations, relocated. Some still return, as walkers on a meandering path around the lake, or in burial at the Gethsemane Cemetery.
Yesterday, hundreds of others came on a charity-inspired day, chasing hope to battle the prostate cancer which had claimed Rockland Road Runners member Wodicka. So poor is New York State that the local Clarkstown Police Department had to provide supervision, and runners had to begin their races in a parking lot crumbling so badly that some complained of nearly twisted ankles.
That makes one wonder at the wisdom of wiping out a community of property taxed homes and businesses to construct a park which now cannot be funded. A park that on balance was not necessary given the many then in place in the Rockland and Bergen counties area so close to Gotham. A balance was required as early as 1965 between urban needs and suburban availability to meet them without giving up so much history and identity.
Simple people, some complex in particular nature as many of us are, led simple lives in two centuries in the hamlet of Rockland Lake, and the great quiet that is found and cherished in this area atop the cliffs leading to the Hudson and adjacent Hook Mountain was once theirs alone. Progress could not relocate that feeling, though, and it has been left to those able to visit the park in less-busy moments.
My son Arthur 4th, who captured the win in the 5K, long ago tapped into the quiet of Rockland Lake, Hook Mountain, nearby Talman Mountain, Clausland Mountain and, of course, Bear Mountain, where he romped as a child, as did his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. And now his son Sam, too.
The building of New York State’s parks, most of them early in the 20th century, was a gift for urbanites in particular whose own geography was built upon to fuel this nation’s growth, success and opportunity. But progress pushes quiet aside, and some place must be found to relocate it if civilization is not to be overwhelming. For city dwellers, there is relative quiet in busy-on-weekends state parks.
Some lucky people find the quiet in their soul, in their walks or running or hobbies. Or on a March-like day in April when motivated participants chase quiet in the once hamlet of Rockland Lake.