What We Do
Connect Local Schools With Local Parks
The Friends created an innovative program, "Learning in the Parks", to connect public school students with Hook Mountain and Nyack Beach State Park.
Since 2018, thousands of public school students --- most of whom had never been to these parks --- have discovered what natural spaces have to offer. Some were awed by the towering cliffs, amazed by the variety of fish in the Hudson River Estuary, or calmed by the concentration of using all of their senses to detect life in the woods.
The value of connecting to nature and learning through hands-on, placed-based experiences is well established in educational and psychological literature. The engagement and excitement expressed by students who have participated in Learning in the Parks speaks volumes. As one student said: “It was the best trip out of all the trips from kindergarten to third grade!” And teachers are equally enthusiastic: “The difference between the pre and post [student] assessment was true evidence of all the learning that took place on this trip! I hope Learning in the Parks is a yearly event for the fourth grade students.”
The Friends launched Learning in the Parks in 2018, bringing all fourth graders in the Nyack School District to Hook Mountain and Nyack Beach State Park to explore the special geology of the Palisades Sill, the unique ecosystem of the Hudson River Estuary, and local trailside ecology. Science educators introduced the students to these local parks through hands-on activities that took place at the respective schools, followed by a trip to the parks where the fourth graders explored educational stations that showed students real-world science, stewardship, and how much fun it is to spend time outdoors.
The Friends provided seed funding to pilot this initiative in 2018, with the goals of:
Demonstrating the value of the program;
Incorporating the program as a permanent component within the Nyack District STEM curriculum; and,
Expanding this experiential outdoor learning model to more public schools.
The pilot program was a huge hit with students, teachers, and administrators and was subsequently added to the district budget as an annual program.
2020 - 2023 Expansion
In 2020, The Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain received a $45,000 grant to expand “Learning in the Parks” to more schools, including to all fourth graders of the South Orangetown School District! The Learning in the Parks expansion was supported with funding from the NYS Park and Trail Partnership Grants and New York’s Environmental Protection Fund. Park and Trail Partnership Grants are administered by Parks & Trails New York, in partnership with the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
In 2021, the program was doubled in size to reach nearly 500 fourth graders per year.
In 2022, The Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain was awarded a $68,000 matching grant from the Environmental Fund's Park and Trail Partnership Grants program to:
Bring additional 4th grade students to the parks for hands-on science and history learning;
Create a pilot mentor program for high school students; and,
Conduct a longitudinal study of past program participants to assess longer-term impact.
In 2023, The Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain was awarded a $100,000 matching grant from the Environmental Fund's Park and Trail Partnership Grants program to add new educational programs that will extend outreach to young people from groups currently underrepresented in these parks.
The Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain continuously strives to strengthen and expand Learning in the Parks. Please support our work.
NOTE: In the fall of 2019, the Outdoor Science Alliance ("OSA") merged into the Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain to become the educational arm of our organization.
Protect Our Parks
Land Acquisition & Conservation Easement (2017)
Locally known as the “Marydell Property”, since 1924 the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine owned the picturesque acreage at the southern base of Hook Mountain. The Marydell acreage provides the only southern public access point to the top of Hook Mountain.
The Friends played a critical role in the effort to protect these 40 acres at the base of Hook Mountain, working closely with the Trust for Public Land and other parties. Thirty acres were acquired and have been incorporated into the adjacent Hook Mountain and Nyack Beach State Park. In addition, the Friends now hold a conservation easement and a right of first refusal over the 10 acres that remain as private property.
The Friends helped to raise awareness and financial support for this conservation project through its “Protect Hook Mountain” campaign and helped negotiate and structure the transaction.
The Marydell land acquisition enabled the creation of the 1.5 mile "Hook Mountain Summit Trail", directly linking the Long Path and the top of Hook Mountain with the Nyack Beach State Park river trail.
Marydell Nature Preserve (2022)
In 2022, The Institute of Christian Doctrine donated an additional 8+ acres to the Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain, forever protecting wetlands and wildlife habitat while ensuring continued public access to hiking trails. The Friends provided volunteer hours and funding to complete the transaction.
Improve Our Parks
New Trails & Signage
Hook Mountain Summit Trail
The Marydell land acquisition enabled the creation a new hiking trail to better integrate the park system. Working with various partners such as the Long Distance Trail Crews of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, the Friends conceived of and facilitated the creation of the highly-acclaimed "Hook Mountain Summit Trail." The "Hook Mountain Summit Trail" directly links the Long Path and the top of Hook Mountain with the Nyack Beach State Park river trail. Park visitors are now able to access the top of Hook Mountain from the Hudson River path in Nyack Beach State Park without walking along public streets or on private property, making for a safer and more enjoyable visitor experience. The "Hook Mountain Summit Trail" also enables a new 6 mile full-loop trail experience within these parks.
The Hook Mountain Summit Trail is much more than a 'linker trail'. The medium of the trail is rock: huge slabs of diabase and giant boulders have been engineered and sculpted into bridges, walkways, and staircases. The surrounding environment is all woodland plants and dappled sunshine. The habitat at the foot of the mountain provides an open, tranquil atmosphere. The hush of the low woods unmasks sounds of birdsong and trickling water.
More than ten organizations worked together to manifest the vision, from the labyrinth of land-acquisition to the moving of mountains (almost literally) to the painting of blazes. Visit this magnificent new trail section by starting your hike at the Nyack Beach State Park parking lot; an informational kiosk at the northern side of the parking lot provides a map of the area trails.
The Hook Mountain Summit Trail opened June 2021.
Kiosk and Trail Signage
Thanks to collaborations with the Scouts and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the Friends installed a new kiosk and trail signage in Nyack Beach State Park and along the "Hook Mountain Summit Trail." The kiosk includes educational content created by the Friends such as new maps and information about these parks.
In continued partnership with the Long Distance Trail Crew, the stone steps were recently repaired at the entrance of Nyack Beach State Park and the northern section of the Long Path Trail at Hook Mountain has been improved. A special thank you to the Long Distance Trail Crew for their generosity and hard work to build and improve our park trails.
Nature hikes and maple syrup tapping, led by board member Bob Stien.