May 25, 2020 – Putnam Valley, NY
Length: Approximately 3 miles
Max elevation: 758 ft. – total elevation gain: approximately 151 ft.
Route type: Out and back
Map: None available
Trailhead parking: Indian Hill Rd, Mahopac, NY 10541
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 282-acre Indian Hill property in northern Jefferson Valley, straddles the Westchester County/Putnam County border with 54 acres in the Town of Yorktown, Westchester County, and 228 acres in the Town of Putnam Valley, Putnam County. It is situated east of the Taconic State Parkway, in close proximity to both the Clarence Fahnestock and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) State Parks. The new parkland is a mix of heavily wooded lands, large open meadows, and a large wetland running north/south along the eastern boundary.
It has a gravel parking lot (16 car capacity) and a kiosk with a stone slab bench, 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. Some recent improvements in 2019 to the entrance include an asphalt driveway, gravel parking lot, entrance gates and wood fencing, native tree and shrub plantings, an access path from the parking lot to the kiosk area and gravel spread out on the main walking path behind the kiosk.
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 to take quiet walks in the woods, the Indian Hill Section provides opportunities for walking miles on relatively level unmarked woods roads and ATV trails.
Indian Hill is an expansive mountain stretching from Osceola Lake and Route 6 on the south, to almost Bryant Pond Road on the north in Putnam County. It borders the Taconic State Parkway on the west and parts of Wood Street on the east. The highest point is listed at 758 feet above sea level.
Yorktown’s first inhabitants were deer, wild turkeys, other wild animals and Indians. These Indians were subdivisions of the great Mohegan Tribe and the last known Indian encampment in Westchester County, was on Indian Hill.
By the early 18th century, white settlers of Yorktown had forced the native Mohegan Indians to withdraw to high ground above Osceola Lake. There on the elevation known as Indian Hill, a band of Indians made their final stand on Westchester soil. It is said that on the south side of Indian Hill, there is an Indian burial ground.
There is not a lot of later history readily available on the lands that make up this park. The stone walls that criss-cross the property is an indication that the park is made up of many farmsteads that once occupied the land. Below is a Frederick W. Beers map from 1867, of southeastern Putnam Valley, just above the Westchester County line. The area below Barger Pond and east of Barger Road is the area of the current park today. As you can see there are numerous landowners on the map. Notice at the bottom, just right of center is “Indian Hill.”
In the years that followed, the property, at various times, hosted a mink farm, cattle ranch and an equestrian center.
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.
The former farm fields in the 282-acre Indian Hill section are thick with brush and brambles which are, in places, quite dense. It is possible to walk along rutted ATV tracks or on former farm roads. In spring, the flowering apple trees and an occasional dogwood add a splash of color to the vast expanse of green. Birding opportunities abound for birders who are intrepid enough to venture into the expanse of invasive plants. These fields provide habitat for shrub-dependent bird species whose number have declined.
Not knowing what to expect, we had no real plan going in. We figured that we would just wander around and explore a bit. Knowing it was previously farmland, we didn’t expect much elevation gain. The mostly level main road that travels north through the overgrown field, eventually enters the woods and continues north. We walked as far as the power lines and then headed back. At the time I wasn’t sure how far the property extends, but the main road goes past the power lines and continues through the woods. We also ventured a bit on two other roads that branch off the main road and head towards the Taconic State Parkway. It was quiet in the woods and we only saw two dog walkers while we were there.
There are no formal trails in the Indian Hill section of Donald J. Trump State Park. There is however, a wide gravel road that leads into the property from the kiosk.
The gravel road heads west from the kiosk to a hilltop field from where there is a limited view over the trees of the Hudson Highlands.
There are ATV trails that have been cut through the head high brush, and in places forming tunnel-like trails.
The main farm road bisects the center of the property south to north. It begins from the open field as a grassy surfaced road and soon becomes a crater filled dirt road as it travels across the farm land, bordered by thick brush.
The road eventually leaves the overgrown former farm fields and enters into an open and verdant forest. There are trails that lead west, towards the Taconic State Parkway that one could explore.
Or Continue north along the main woods road, which crosses numerous stone walls.
The old dirt road will eventually come out to a power lines cut that runs west to east. This was our turn around point, but the road continues past the power lines cut and there are more woods to explore. At the time I was not sure of the park boundary, but as you can tell from the map above, the park continues for some distance past the power lines.
A nice place to take a walk in the woods. Although at times, road noise from the parkway can be heard, it’s not too much of a bother. It’s seems to be a lightly trafficked area, at least on the day that I was there. The area was known for ATV riding, but I am not sure if that is still the case. I did not hear any motorized vehicles or bikes while we were there.
Quiet place for a walk, lush green forest, the woods have a lot of tree cover for hot days.
No real views, overgrown fields, could use more trails.
Take a hike!
- Walkable Westchester: A Walking Guide to Westchester County, NY – by Jane and Walt Daniels
- Friends of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Donald J. Trump State Parks