The Shawangunks, (pronounced SHON-gums),
stretch 50 miles from the New Jersey border at Port Jervis northeast
to Rosendale in a series of parallel rolling ridges. Dramatic white
quartz vertical escarpments line the south east face of the ridge,
while the back sides gently slope northwestward, sinking into fertile
river valleys. Geologically, the Shawangunks are part of the Appalachian
Mountain chain that passes through the Hudson Valley creating the
dramatic Hudson Highlands.
The Shawangunk ridgetop is an ecosystem
of pitch pine barrens, dwarf pine plains, quartz conglomerate cliffs,
slabrock and virgin hemlock forests and is home to many rare and endangered
species. In 1994 The Nature Conservancy designated the Shawangunks
as one of the 75 "Last Great Places" in the world.
Outdoor entheuasists come to the Shawangunks
for a variety of reasons; hiking on the extensive system of carriage
roads and long distance foot paths; nature study; cross country
skiing; mountain biking; and rock climbing. They come to enjoy a
scenic natural area, relatively untouched by development, within
two hours of New York City.
The Shawangunk Mountains are rich in
wildlife providing habitats for spotted salamander, migratory birds,
black bear, bobcat, fox, fisher and over 200 species of nesting
birds. Rare and endangered species found along the ridge include
clustered sedge, broom crowberry, timber rattlesnake, hyssop skullcap,
Carolina cranesbill, and mountain spleenwort. You might also be
lucky enough to spot one of the peregrine falcons that nest on cliffs
in the ridge where they are making a tenuous recovery here.
Three areas of the ridge are protected
from development and are open to you for your enjoyment:
Sams Point - Nature Conservancy
Sam’s Point Dwarf Pine Ridge Preserve
contains the best example of a ridgetop dwarf pine barrens in the
world. It is part of the 90,000-acre Northern Shawangunk Mountains,
whose cliffs, summits and plateaus form a unique landscape of extraordinary
ecological significance. Home to nearly 40 rare plants and animals
and three rare natural communities, the Northern Shawangunks represent
one of the highest priorities for conservation in the northeastern
United States. The Shawangunk Ridge Program is one of the chapter’s
priority landscape programs.
As the name implies, barrens are often
less fertile areas with a sparse canopy of stunted trees and a shrubby
understory. In the Shawangunk pine barrens, pitch pine is the dominant
tree, while blueberry, huckleberry and sheep laurel comprise most
of the shrub layer. You can distinguish the pitch pine trees from
the white pine on the ridge by looking at the needle clusters: pitch
pine needles grow in clusters of three, while white pine needles
grow in clusters of five. Other species such as wintergreen, wild
lily-of-the-valley and a diversity of moss species serve as ground
cover nestled under and amidst the dense shrubs.
Located just 90 miles north of New York
City, the Mohonk Preserve provides visitors access to over 6,500
acres – including cliffs, forests, fields, ponds, and streams
– and to a network of over 100 miles of carriage roads and
trails for hiking, running, mountain biking, horseback riding, and
cross-country skiing. Also, the internationally renowned “Gunks”
cliffs offer over 1,000 technical rock climbing routes.
The Mohonk Preserve protects over 6,500
acres of the Shawangunk Mountains, identified as one of the highest
priorities for conservation in the eastern United States. Located
in southeastern New York, the northern Shawangunks are a 100-square
mile, semi-wilderness area used by hikers, bird watchers, climbers,
skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
The largest member and visitor-supported
nature preserve in New York State, the Mohonk Preserve was the first
land trust established to protect the northern Shawangunk Ridge,
a section of the Appalachian Mountains. Through research, education,
and land management, the Preserve carries out its mission to safeguard
this land and to promote a wider understanding of the environment
and its role in our lives.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve
Minnewaska State Park was created
in 1971 when 7,000 acres were purchased from the Lake Minnewaska
Resort. The 1,200 acre section that includes Lake Minnewaska was
added in 1987. The Park Preserve is characterized by unique and
sensitive environments, valuable for their many rare geological
and ecological features. It is situated on the dramatic Shawangunk
Ridge, which rises to over 2,000 feet above sea level. Two “sky
lakes” - Lake Minnewaska and Lake Awosting - are the scenic
centerpieces of the Park Preserve. Hiking is permitted on marked
trails and carriageways. Volunteer members of the NY-NJ Trail Conference
maintain the 30 miles of hiking trails at Minnewaska. The park is
open to the public upon payment of a day-use fee.