Every year, on New Years Day, New York State Parks sponsors “First Day” hikes in parks all across the state. Rangers, along with local experts on the history of the area, lead visitors in walks through the winter landscape. This year, I joined a First Day hike at Croton Gorge Park, in Cortland, New York.
|Retaining Wall of the Old Aquaduct|
The Croton Reservoir is the oldest part of New York City’s vast water supply system. The first dam across the Croton River was finished in 1842, along with an aqueduct that used gravity to bring clean drinking water to the city. It was needed because the Hudson River near the city is actually a salt-water estuary, and the city’s wells had become infiltrated by the salt water. This reservoir and aqueduct brought 35 million gallons of water to the growing city every day. The water traveled for 22 hours, through Westchester County, and Bronx, crossing the High Bridge aqueduct into Manhattan, before ending up at the 42nd street reservoir, also called the Croton Reservoir.
|42nd Street Reservoir via Wikicommons|
By the end of the 19th century, a new dam was needed at Croton, both to replace the aging earthen dam, and to expand the capacity of the reservoir. So a the building began, and in 1906, the dam was finished. Today, the Croton Dam is the fourth largest masonry structure in the world. The Croton reservoir now has a capacity of 19 billion gallons, and provides about 20% of the City’s water. A new aqueduct was constructed to carry the this expanded supply to the Jerome Reservoir in the Bronx, although it now passes through a water filtration plant that opened in 2015 under Van Cortlandt Park.
|Highbridge Viaduct via Wikicommons|
Croton Gorge Park is a gathering place for families and hikers. It is the northern end of the Old Croton Aqueduct State Park, which winds for 22 miles, from the Bronx. Also, the top of the dam is open to pedestrian traffic, and it is one of the few dams, post 9-11 that you can still walk across, giving wonderful views of the reservoir and the park below. There is also a short trail along the Croton River below the dam.
|Croton Dam Spillway|
|Old Croton Aquaduct Trail|
Nuts and Bolts:
Croton Gorge Park is located 2.5 miles east of Croton-on Hudson along route NY-129. The park is free and open to all. One word of caution, there is parking for only about 75 cars, so it possible for the park to fill up, and this past summer, during COVID, weekend access was severely limited.