April 19, 2020 – Yorktown Heights, NY
Length: Approximately 3 miles
Max elevation: 562 ft. – total elevation gain: approximately 128 ft.
Route type: Circuit
Map: None available
Trailhead parking: Old Baldwin Rd, Yorktown Heights, NY
There are two sections of Donald J. Trump State Park, the French Hill Section and the Indian Hill Section. Both are adjacent to the Taconic State Parkway, but are almost 7 miles apart with separate entrances.
The 154-acre French Hill Section is located in southern Yorktown Heights, just south of FDR State Park in Westchester County. The park features a mix of continuous forest, open meadows, and several large wetlands. Headwaters for two streams, French Hill Brook and Dogwood Creek, are located within the French Hill section of the park. The entire park is located within the New York City Watershed Area and is easily accessible from the Taconic State Parkway.
It has a gravel parking lot and a kiosk with two benches, but no restrooms. The property has never been developed into a full-fledged park. It was briefly closed along with other parks in 2010 during a NY State cash flow crisis and has remained largely undeveloped since. While the park remains officially open, it isn’t listed on the official NY State Parks website. It is managed as an undeveloped, passive park to preserve open space and provide low-impact recreation such as hiking and birdwatching. For someone who loves exploring, the French Hill Section provides opportunities for walking on unmarked woods roads and footpaths.
The French Army encamped twice on and around what is now French Hill in Yorktown. Once before the Battle of Yorktown, Virginia in 1781, then on their march back in 1782. They would make French Hill and Crompond their longest encampment on their return march in 1782. On October 21st, the French broke camp and marched out of Crompond never to return. Without their help the Continental Army could not have defeated the British and secured the independence of the United States of America.
William Delavan Baldwin (1856-1930) was the first President of the Otis Elevator Company in Yonkers. He was also the first President of the Westchester County Park Commission from 1922-1925. Baldwin owned 550-acres here and called his estate “French Hill Farm.” In 1928 he donated more than 25 acres of his estate for the construction of the Bronx River Parkway Extension, now the Taconic State Parkway. A brass tablet is affixed to a large boulder that overlooks the Taconic State Parkway, memorializes Mr. Baldwin’s gift of his land that the parkway cuts through.
In 1998 Donald Trump bought the first parcel, 282 acres known as Indian Hill that straddle Westchester and Putnam counties, from an estate sale for $1.75 million. He also bought 154 acres in Westchester County known as French Hill, also part of an estate sale, for $750,000. In 2000, he bought 58 acres of a nearby “surplus” stretch of the Taconic State Parkway from the New York State Department of Transportation for $250,000.
By 2002, local authorities had rejected his plans for two 18-hole championship golf courses on Indian Hill and French Hill, on the grounds that the courses would drain the area’s water supply as well as affect the water supply of New York City downstream.
In 2006 Donald Trump donated the two parcels in Westchester and Putnam counties that became New York’s 174th state park. As part of the deal, New York State agreed that Trump’s name “will be prominently displayed at least at each entrance to each property.”
In 2010, a budget crisis leads to closings at 58 parks and historic sites across the state, Donald J. Trump State Park, still mostly wetlands and forest, is included on the chopping block. The park eventually reopened and remains open to present day.
In April 2020, at the time of this writing, the park remains open with some maintenance evident, such as grass mowing, downed trees cut and cleared.
There are no marked trails in the park, but there is a footpath that travels from north to south overlooking the Taconic State Parkway. It continues south until it reaches private property near Underhill Avenue. Along the way it passes the William Delavan Baldwin plaque that overlooks the parkway. There is one main woods road that traverses the park north-south, plus another woods road that leads east. They can be combined to form about a 3-4 mile loop. This hike also includes a little off trail exploration as well.
From the parking lot, proceed south past the kiosk and into the open field. Just ahead are some interesting stone ruins that you may want to check out.
This appears to be what’s left of a fountain.
This may have been changing rooms for the tennis court which is just beyond. The grassy area surrounded by the stone wall may have been used for volleyball.
Continue through the changing room ruins and past the tennis court. Turn left and walk through the open field between the tennis court and parking lot. Walk west towards the parkway and follow the split rail fence to where there are two stone columns with stone steps, near the northwest area of the park.
This is the start of the unmarked footpath that leads south through the woods with the Taconic State Parkway visible below to the right.
Looking back at the steps.
Follow the unmarked, but discernible footpath south. In a short distance, the trail comes to a huge boulder on the right. Walk around to the other side of the boulder and view the William Delavan Baldwin bronze tablet that is embedded on the side that faces the parkway.
William Delavan Baldwin plaque that overlooks the Taconic State Parkway.
Continue south along the trail, soon passing some interesting rock formations.
The trail then goes through a wet area and ascends slightly. Soon the trail comes to a point where the Taconic State Parkway and Underhill Avenue are visible below. If you continue on the trail, it descends towards Underhill Avenue.
Turn left and bushwack towards a stone wall with a break in it. There is a woods road on the other side of the wall that heads north.
This woods road is a straight shot back to area of the ruins. We left the trail briefly to explore the woods a little, but found nothing of interest.
There is another woods road on the right that heads east through the wetland area.
At a stone wall, the road turns right and climbs to end at Westview Drive, a public street.
To the left, a wide path goes through several stone walls as it climbs the eastern side of the French Hill Section. I didn’t go too far in thinking that I was entering private property, but upon doing research for this post, have determined that this was still state property.
We retraced our steps on the woods road through the wetland area, turned right on the main woods road and came out by where the ruins are located.
A nice area to spend some alone time in the woods. Not much foot traffic in this park and it is very quiet, road noise from the TSP aside. Not much in way of trails, but a nice walk in the woods with some interesting stone ruins. A nice place to visit if you’re in the area and want to take a quick hike.
Quiet park that is off the beaten path, historical features, interesting stone ruins.
Road noise from the Taconic State Parkway.
Take a hike!