A new spot to lose yourself

| 24 Feb 2017 | 02:39

By Pamela Chergotis

You can hop on a train in Midtown and a few hours and one connection later disembark at Port Jervis, and a little while after that find yourself in the middle of the woods, silent except for the music of falling water or the shriek of a red-tailed hawk. The Delaware Heritage Trail passes right by the train station and through the rest of the historic city, taking in places where the ever-cogitating Stephen Crane was said to have hatched his masterpieces, including “The Monster,” based on the true story of a black man who was lynched on the banks of the Neversink in 1892. And up on Point Peter and Mount William, the rocky knob overlooking the city, where we’ve spent the past several Saturdays hiking in solitude, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses back in the 1920s.

The Port Jervis Watershed Park opened without fanfare last summer. I’ve only just discovered it, although I pass the road leading to the trailhead nearly every day. I didn’t notice, on my sleepy commute, the new bright red sign at the entrance of what I’d always thought of as the way up to Kolmar Laboratories, the cosmetics manufacturing plant where so many people I’ve known worked at one time or another. I drove up there exactly once before, on a steep road with several sharp switchbacks, to the complex of abandoned hulks that made up the old plant. But once there, I didn’t know what else to do, so I drove right back down. I knew about the campground, founded on the prominence by the local Elks lodge 100 years ago and used mainly by local people. A train conductor I knew back in the 1980s looked forward to pitching a tent there with his five kids every summer, even though he lived on the flats just below.

You can get lost in the new park in the good sense of the word, of forgetting history and distressing news alerts and the daily grind of obligation. But you won’t really get lost. Kiosks at the three trailheads are posted with excellent maps, and all the trails are well marked with charming little discs -- each depicting the engine of a steam train, symbol of the city -- hammered into trees along with way. At every intersection is a post that tells where you are. There are 2,220 acres of woods, three pine-edged reservoirs that spill into a number of cascading streams, and so many miles of trails, 25, that I have not yet seen them all after three days of rigorous hiking.

Some of the trails, like Scouts Honor, look freshly cut, with snipped roots still springy among sharp rocks. Other trails, like the Lenni Lenape, appear to have been around a long time, well-trod and soft with grasses and moss. Still others are gravel and some are paved, some are wide, and some narrow. I’ve seen more mountain bikers than hikers on the trail, with fat tires that wouldn’t look out of place on my subcompact. Many trails feel really remote, like the two-mile DJ Downs trail, which swings far to the east, along the flank of a ridge on one side and a stream on the other. From the city below, Point Peter looks like a mountain. On top, it looks like a plateau raked with streams.

With every new trail, my understanding of the landscape increases. On my daily rounds I see the places I’ve been when I’m living my other life -- the hilltops, the clear-cuts, the road crossings. The temptation to pull into trailheads and start walking is tremendous. I’ll slow down for a glimpse of trail as it disappears into the woods and feel a gravitational tug. I’ll see a hiker bent under a heavy pack negotiating a busy intersection near the train station and want to tag along. Where are you going? I had that feeling as a kid walking to school, when I’d see the bus headed to the city, to Greenwich Village, to the museums uptown. I’d slow my steps and peek into the bus as it picked up passengers, and some alternate part of me always went along for the ride.

I never fail to notice that red sign anymore, now that I know what’s out there, and how many different ways the day could go.


Trail: Port Jervis Watershed Park trails

Trailheads: Route 42, Port Jervis (between Route 6 and Scenic Route 97); also at the end of Reservoir Road, Port Jervis

Web (with map): discoverportjervis.com/watershed-park