Sunday, May 29, 2011

The New Croton Dam / Croton Gorge Park - Another of New York's Hidden Treasures

A great pleasure of living in this place is the discovery of these "hidden treasures," places one can visit and enjoy and, often, without any special or costly effort. The Croton Dam Reservoir is such a place, hidden away up in Westchester County, not anywhere near the big and well-traveled interstate highways, and just there for those who know about them.

Our crowd first discovered the Croton Dam about three years ago when we were out for a Saturday drive with a couple of elderly friends. We drove over a bridge we had crossed many times, saw a nicely paved side road and decided to drive down that road. There was hardly any traffic, and we were a little surprised when a car drove up behind us and the driver blinked his lights, apparently trying to signal us. He passed us, then pulled off the road and indicated we should pull off as well.

This man looked respectable enough (although our "safety-first instincts" did make us wonder if we should pull over and speak to someone we didn't know), so we took a chance. I rolled down the window and he said, "I can see by the way you're driving that your out for a ride. Is this your first time here?"

We said it was, and he said, "Well, just be sure you enjoy all there is to see. Have you ever been to the dam?"

"What dam?"

He grinned, and gave us directions for a short drive down the road to the New Croton Dam, which holds back the water of the Croton Reservoir (or part of it - apparently the so-called "Croton Reservoir" is a series of reservoirs). He told us about Croton Gorge Park, some 97 acres of grassland just below the dam, where visitors can picnic, loll on the grass, or - if they're ambitious enough - climb up the steep hill to level themselves with the top of the dam (it's where the Old Croton Trail begins, if hiking is your thing), and then walk across for unbelievable views of this splendid countryside.

We were impressed. And no longer frightened! So we thanked him, and off we went, for one of the most remarkable experiences we've had in our drives about. And our elderly ladies couldn't have been happier.

The New Croton Dam is an amazing engineering accomplishment. Westchester County's website provides the information (and explains why the dam is referred to as "new," since the "old" dam now sits deep down in the water of the reservoir):

"The Old Croton Dam, built to supply New York City with water, was the first large masonry dam in the United States. Completed in 1842, it was the prototype for many municipal water supply dams in the east during the mid-nineteenth century. The city’s needs, however, soon outgrew the Croton Dam water supply. Consequently, work began on the New Croton Dam, also called the Cornell Dam because of its location on land purchased from A.B. Cornell, in 1893. Completed in 1907, the Cornell Dam stands over 200 feet high. The Croton Reservoir has a capacity of about 34 billion gallons of water with a watershed covering 375 miles."

And here's the kicker: our ladies - one 85 and the other 89 - had lived in New York City all their lives, and neither had ever been to this place before! As of course neither had we, and we can't keep it to ourselves, so go to New Croton Dam (May 21, 2011) to see more of Mr. Guy's photos.

It was a remarkable experience, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Now we return from time to time (it's only about an hour's drive - or less - from where we live in Manhattan), often just to see the place but, when the weather's nice, for a picnic with friends. Great fun!

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