PRESENT STATUS: Paved and open (a 0.4 mile section is along a fairly smooth, scenic dirt road)
STATUS DETAILS: From the parking lot at Under Mountain Road, the trail is paved for 2.9 miles going northward. Then the trail detours on to a scenic dirt road for 0.4 miles to bypass the only privately held parcel of rail bed between Copake Falls and Wassaic. The dirt road rejoins the paved rail trail which then continues for another half mile to Route 344 and the entrance to Taconic State Park. A recently built trail goes north 1.25 miles to the beautiful Orphan Farm Meadow.
NATURAL FEATURES, FLORA & FAUNA:
Section 5 is more of a deep woods trail, although it is by no means closed in by trees. It almost hugs the base of the South Taconic Mountains to the east and is bordered by agricultural lands at times on either side. Near the northern end, there are wonderful views of the Catskill Mountains to the west. Also at the northern end, you are only about a mile away from historic and scenic Bash Bish Falls. The falls are located just about a mile east of the trailhead in Copake Falls, just over the Massachusetts state border.
This segment crosses over two streams, and rattlesnakes and black bears are occasionally reported. The rail trail association’s 4-color Botanical Brochure will be posted at the website soon.
UNDER MOUNTAIN ROCK CUT
The single rock cut north of Millerton, about 300 feet north of Under Mountain Road and 5-6 feet high, has mossy seeps and an abundance of ferns, including marginal woodfern, hay-scented fern, lady fern, rock polypody, fragile fern and sensitive fern. Other unusual plants here include hazelnut, skunk cabbage (very unusual on rock) and purple-stemmed aster. It is unusual to see wetland plants like skunk cabbage growing on the walls of a rock-cut. Sometimes botanists refer to these rock-cuts and their assemblage of wetland flora as “vertical wetlands.”
UNDER MOUNTAIN FERN BANK
About 120 feet north of the rock cut north of Under Mountain Road is a steep bank on the east side of the trail covered with hayscented fern, a lovely stand of a single species. Such single-species stands are helpful in teaching recognition of a particular plant, because they lack the visual confusion of a multi-species community. The juxtaposition of the multi-species fern community on the rock cut and the single-species stand on the bank is especially serendipitous for teaching or learning ferns.
BUTTERFLY WEED GARDEN
Immediately north of farm crossing #4 (counting north from the Under Mountain Road Parking lot) is where the butterfly weed garden is located. There are 5 farm crossings, all south of the intersection with the dirt road, Valley View Road. At the garden location, there are high weedy wildflowers attracting butterflies. A partial list includes knapweed, bouncing bet, white sweet clover, mullein, queen-Anne’s lace, birdfoot trefoil, bladder campion, milkweed, daisy fleabane, vipers bugloss, common burdock, ox-eye daisy, evening primrose, spotted St. Johnswort, Norway cinquefoil. Possibly these plants (common along the trail, but only here found all together) could be enhanced with plantings of other good butterfly attractants (butterfly bush, butterfly weed, bachelor’s button, etc.) to form a Rail Trail butterfly garden. A rest and snack at the bench would be supplemented by the treat of dancing, nectaring butterflies.
Copake Falls: This hamlet, originally called Copake Iron Works, established a post office in 1853. In 1909, it was briefly known as Berkshire Pass and finally became Copake Falls in 1910. The Episcopal Church of St. John in the Wilderness, adjacent to the Taconic State Park entrance, was built in 1852 by owners of the iron works. Irish workers built St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in 1867. It was demolished and replaced by a new building in 1959 at the present location on Route 22.
Copake Falls is also the base of operations for the staff of Taconic State Park. Bash Bish Brook, which passes under the bridge just south of here, flows south from legendary and scenic Bash Bish Falls in nearby Massachusetts. The brook joins the Roeliff Jansen Kill in nearby Copake.
Taconic State Park was formed in 1925 by a five-man commission, which included Franklin D. Roosevelt. The park is situated at a once very active iron foundry, the Copake Iron Works. The first parcels acquired for the park included the iron works and the Bash Bish Inn property, formerly the Douglas estate, located along Bash Bish Brook. An ironworks museum is currently located at the blast furnace site, about a half mile east of the rail trail trailhead. There was a spur off of the Harlem Division rail line to serve the Copake Iron Works.
Taconic State Park now includes 5,000 acres stretching 15 miles from Catamount Ski Area south to Rudd Pond. The Harlem Valley Rail Trail is a recent (1997) addition to the park. The railroad station in Copake Falls was originally named “Copake Iron Works,” but the name was later changed to “Copake Falls” when the iron works closed. The former train station is located at the rail trail trailhead and is currently occupied by the Depot Deli.
There was a milk plant south of the train station which probably was a shipping plant for raw milk in bulk cans. The plant was operated by either Borden’s Milk or Sheffield Farms. Most residents of the village worked at the iron works or on dairy farms that prospered in the rich bottomlands of the valley. The community also prospered from tourists and seasonal homeowners who were attracted to the picturesque mountain scenery and rural countryside dotted with farms. Until rail service ended in 1976, freight carloads of farm machinery and lumber were unloaded on to trucks at Copake Falls for distribution to local dealers.
Under Mountain Road trailhead (Under Mountain Road is exactly halfway between Millerton and Hillsdale along Route 22.
From the south: Take Route 22 north from Millerton for 8.6 miles. At 8.1 miles, you will pass a blue “parking area” sign for a scenic pull-off along Route 22. Exactly one-half mile past the scenic pull-off is Under Mountain Road. There is a bright blue sign just before Under Mountain Road directing motorists to the trail. Turn right on to Under Mountain Road. The trailhead and parking lot are three-tenths of a mile on the left.
From the north: Take Route 22 south from Hillsdale 8.6 miles to Under Mountain Road. Under Mountain Road is on your left, five-tenths of a mile past the Citgo gas station located at the intersection of Route 22 and Columbia County Route 3. There is a bright blue sign just before Under Mountain Road directing motorists to the trail. Turn left on to Under Mountain Road (if you pass the scenic pull-off along Route 22, you’ve missed the turn for Under Mountain Road). Proceed three-tenths of a mile to the trail parking lot on your left.
Valley View Road parking lots:
On Route 22, travel 11.4 miles north from Millerton (or 5.8 miles south from Hillsdale traffic light) and watch for a blue Harlem Valley Rail Trail sign that marks the intersection of Valley View Road with Route 22. This parking lot accommodates only 2-3 vehicles.
Turn east (the only way you can turn) on to Valley View Road. Proceed six-tenths of a mile to a triangular intersection (a red farm building on your left). Turn left and travel five-tenths of a mile to the dirt parking lot on your left. Halfway from the triangular intersection to the parking lot, the road becomes dirt and you might think you are lost and driving right through someone’s farm. Don’t worry. Proceed uphill and the parking lot is two-tenths of a mile along the dirt portion of the road on your left. A small portion of Section 5 is not paved. Four-tenths of a mile of it detours on to the dirt portion of Valley View Road (this is because New York State was unsuccessful in purchasing a privately owned parcel of rail bed).
If you proceed north four-tenths of a mile past the first Valley View Road parking area, there is a second parking area (again, limited to 2-3 vehicles). From this parking area, the trail is then paved again as it continues northward for a little more than one-half mile to the entrance to Taconic State Park in Copake Falls.
Taconic State Park parking lot:
From the south: Take Route 22 northward. At the traffic light in Millerton, proceed northward 12.5 miles to the intersection of Routes 22 and 344. Route 344 intersects Route 22 from the right immediately past St. Bridget’s Church on your right. There are also signs at the intersection for Taconic State Park and the rail trail. Turn right on to Route 344 and proceed three-tenths of a mile to the triangular green in the center of Copake Falls. Bear to your right and proceed about three-tenths of a mile to the entrance of Taconic State Park. Please ask the park attendant where to park.
From the north: Take Route 22 southward. Travel 4.2 miles to the intersection of Routes 22 and 344. Route 344 intersects Route 22 from the left. You’ll see signs on your right at this intersection for Taconic State Park and the Depot Deli. Turn left on to Route 344 and proceed four-tenths of a mile to the triangular green in the center of Copake Falls. Bear to your left AND STOP AT THE STOP SIGN. Proceed straight and go about three-tenths of a mile to the entrance of Taconic State Park. Please ask the park attendant where to park.
*Note: Many thanks to local railroad historians Heyward Cohen, Jack Shufelt, and Lou Grogan (The Coming of the New York and Harlem Railroad, Pawling, NY: Louis V. Grogan, 1989) for much of the railroad history that appears above.