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Into the Woods: With the Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain

Into the Woods: With the Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain

They’ve been changing the faces of our most beloved state parks for more than two decades. Thousands of hikers enjoy trails through pristine acreage they’ve saved from development. And they’ve turned the woods, cliffs, and river into outdoor classrooms for students from across the county. 

Yet many residents may have never heard of the Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain, a group of passionate volunteer stewards of some 2,000 acres of natural beauty stretching from Upper Nyack to Haverstraw. 

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a newbie who connected (or reconnected) with the great outdoors during the pandemic, the Friends aim to get you hooked. 

Volunteers move boulders into place to create steps along the Hook Mountain Summit Trail in 2020

“The key there is to sustain that interest and make sure there is a meaningful connection, a true appreciation and awe of the outdoors, and a desire to come back, to learn, to be contemplative in nature, and then to pass it on to the next generation,” said David Neil, who chairs the nonprofit’s board. 

Founded in 2004 to educate park-goers and increase visitors, the Friends have expanded their focus to include land preservation and connecting local students with parks they may have never visited before. 

Trail Blazers 

In 2017, the group led the effort for the acquisition of 30 acres bordering Hook Mountain and overlooking the Hudson River in Upper Nyack, a $3.1 million purchase from the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine. That same year, they negotiated a 10-acre-conservation easement to protect a parcel from redevelopment. 

In 2021, the Friends helped create the 1.5-mile trail connecting Nyack Beach State Park with the Hook Mountain Summit. Plans are now underway for the Hook Mountain Summit Trail to become part of the new Boulder Loop Trail — a 2.8-mile hike that loops through the Marydell Nature Preserve, an 8-acre parcel acquired by donation from the Sisters.  

Introducing a Natural Education 

The Friends’ education arm, Learning in the Parks, has led thousands of fourth-graders out of the classroom and into the field. The program recently expanded to include sixth graders from Nyack and North Rockland schools, as well as a high school mentorship component. 

“We’re bringing science and nature education outdoors and connecting it with curriculum being taught in local schools,” said Diana Cutt, an EPA geologist and Friends board member who volunteers as an educator. 

Cutt, a Nyack resident, brings in other scientists to let students experience the characteristics that have given the Hudson River Estuary and Palisades Sill region national natural landmark status.  

“There’s such a rich geologic history that we can tell stories about in this park,” Cutt said. “Dinosaur footprints have been found in sedimentary rock in this area, and the fact that it’s on a river…you’ve got everything there. Trails, river, beach, rock, and the hawks that come, the migration. It’s really a special area and it’s accessible.” 

It’s Good to Have Friends 

The Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain, who count some 1,500 supporters among their ranks, are actively exploring further land acquisitions to expand the parks and are looking to place an educational kiosk at the Marydell Nature Preserve. Educational signage will be placed at Nyack Beach State Park to enhance the visitor experience.

The Friends are recruiting volunteers, especially those willing to help with trail work in the Marydell Nature Preserve. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit is also seeking donations to help with costs related to land acquisition. Send an email to or visit their website.  

Photos courtesy of Marty Costello and Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain


Robert Brum is an accomplished journalist who has extensively covered the lower Hudson Valley. 

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