Preserving River Hook to Serve the Community
The 12-Acre Property Was One of Nyack’s Six Original Farms
When the village of Nyack bought 12 acres of land for $2.5 million in 2018, the community took on a project of unprecedented scope.
Transforming the property into what would become River Hook: The Hester Haring Carson Preserve was a formidable undertaking – and still is. Five years later, Riverhook has made significant progress, but there is a lot of work to be done well into the future.
Walking the preserve, the most visible efforts thus far are the various landscaping projects and artwork that dots the property. Sugar maples line the entrance, while colorful sculptures stand scattered throughout the fields.
Visitors can walk along paths or lay in the grass, admiring views of the Hudson River as they go. Passersby may also peruse the outside of a 1930s estate home, a brick cottage and high-peaked stables. While the buildings are locked and the inside needs repair, the antique charm of the brick and stone buildings’ exterior is undeniable.
The plan is to make use of these existing structures and highlight Nyack’s natural and historical beauty. The preserve sits on land that is one of the six original farms that made up the village of Nyack. For nearly 100 years, the land belonged to the Haring family. It was known by residents as the “Sheep Farm,” for the bountiful flock that grazed the meadow.
Now the preserve exists as a community gathering space, envisioned as a hub where nature, education and the arts can intersect. Nyack Mayor Karen Tarapata calls the preserve the “Green Heart of Upper Nyack.” She said River Hook is meant to be a resource for locals and surrounding areas alike.
“A community really exists where you gather and this is the first place the village owns where people can really get together,” Tarapata said. “Our goal is to make the property really friendly, useful and welcoming.”
Right now, the big project in the works is paving a 2,000 ft. trail that runs throughout the property. Over the years, the road has fallen into disrepair, posing a potential hazard for walkers and bikers.
While the project certainly isn’t the most glamorous renovation, Tarapata said the goal is to increase safety while also improving accessibility.
“The design vision that was originally done for the property is very grand but we’re starting with the most useful thing, which is a good surface from one side to the other,” she said.
Along with the construction of the trail (which will also be wide enough for cars and work vehicles), eight parking spots will be added.
While River Hook is generally off limits to vehicles – conforming to the walkable village ideal codified in Upper Nyack’s 2020 comprehensive plan — Tarapata said there was a need to make the preserve more accessible for people with disabilities.
The paving of the path is scheduled during summer 2023. The preserve will be open throughout the process, although some sections may be closed to the public while work is underway.
Larger projects, like repairing the interior of the cottage and estate, are a few years away. The preserve relies largely on grant funding and volunteer work, organized by Tarapata and the board of Friends of River Hook.
The Friends of River Hook website mentions such ambitious projects as building a theater for music or dance, but Tarapata says the overall concept has changed post-Covid.
“The design vision was to set a high-level approach at the very beginning,” she said. “The vision for the property has evolved over the last five years, where we realized the challenges and length of time involved with making some of these things a reality.”
That’s not to say River Hook can’t grow into a vital hub for arts and and education.
The preserve has hosted such programs as starting a worm composting program and has provided work to groups like the Boy Scouts. Volunteers can help plant native species in the spring, and Friends of River Hook is looking to bring in the New York Conservation Corps to participate in summer projects.
Sheryl LeRoy, newly appointed president of the Friends of River Hook board, said there is work to be done raising public awareness of the preserve. She and Tarapata plan to host a town meeting in March 2023 to update the public on recent and future projects.
“The word still needs to get out more,” LeRoy said. “I think they [community members] know it exists, but there’s a lot of people who haven’t been there yet.”
LeRoy and Tarapata envision holding community or town meetings at the preserve, though restoration of the buildings’ interiors and upgrading the road will not happen for a while.
“There’s a lot of money that needs to be raised to make those improvements,” LeRoy acknowledged, with Tarapata adding that “River Hook will take 20 or 30 years to come to fruition.”
Ryan Bieber is a journalist and filmmaker based in Westchester. He enjoys beautiful hikes and good eats. Find him at ryanbiebermedia.com.
PHOTOS BY ANDREA SWENSON