On Wednesday, September 8, 2021, we went on a Linnaean NY field trip to Rockefeller State Park Preserve, thirty miles north of New York City. The preserve consists of forested hills and valleys surrounding pastoral fields. The property is the former Pocantico Hills and Rockwood Hall country estates of the John D. Rockefeller family and William Rockefeller. Since 1983, the Rockefellers have donated over 1771 acres to New York State to safeguard these lands for the future. Managed by NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, the Preserve is open to the public year-round, sunrise to sunset.
The 45 miles of crushed stone carriage roads designed to complement the landscape where laid out by John D. Rockefeller Sr. and Jr. in the first half of the 20th century. Combinations of trails lead through varied landscapes and past natural and historical features, such as Swan Lake, the Pocantico River with its wood and stone bridges, streams, colonial stone walls, and rock outcroppings. Maps are available to download and at the Preserve Office.
There are huge oak, tulip poplar, maple, and beech trees in the hardwood forest. Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers can be found deep in the woodlands. The forests, fields, streams, and wetlands support resident and migratory birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles, fish and aquatic species, some of which are now uncommon in Westchester County. With 202 recorded species of birds the Preserve draws many birders. Environmental stewardship is underway to promote native biological diversity.
The Japanese Angelica is a food source for the migrating birds. This invasive species’ seeds are spread by the birds. We watched many birds feeding on the Angelica, such as Tennessee Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warblers and more.
Rockwood Hall built between 1886 and 1922 has views of the Hudson River and Palisade Cliffs. William Rockefeller’s estate was 1000 acres with a 202-room mansion, a working farm, and a landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. While the house and buildings are now gone, massive rock walls around the site and extensive grassy fields with magnificent trees harken back to the heyday of the estate.