Negotiating the 26-mile Westchester portion of linear Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA) or the 41-mile original span into Manhattan earns you a coveted badge.
The average American spends 7% of their time outdoors, 87% indoors, and the other 7% in a vehicle, according to Opinium.com.
Clearly, with the pandemic growing weaker, and our wanderlust stronger, we all have some work to do on those lopsided in-and-out percentages. Recognizing that pasty-faced situation, a travel and tourism website (LoveHolidays.com) has created a timely guide to our national parks that touts the life-enhancing benefits of drinking in the great outdoors more often.
We learn such tantalizing tidbits as “spending at least two hours a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing.”
True, Yosemite or Yellowstone may not be within a stone’s throw of our backyard, but Westchester is home to more than 18,000 acres of parks and recreational areas, all ours for the discovering.
According to Westchester native Dr. Isaac Syrop, “Simply being outside can give an overall sense of relaxation and restoration, escaping from the stress and pressure of day-to-day life.”
Escaping from daily stressors reduces impulsive decision-making, “leading to healthier outcomes like a reduction in obesity, alcohol use and smoking sensations,” says Syrop, who is attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley in the Division of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine.
Simply being outside, even without exertion, is a big boost to the system. By adding outdoor physical activity, or what Syrop calls “Green Exercise,” the health benefits are further amplified.
According to Dr. Syrop, a weekly outdoor regimen of 150 minutes of moderate movement, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobics, can …
- Improve cholesterol and blood pressure
- Reduce risk of developing diabetes
- Reduce progression of low bone density and prevent low bone density from becoming osteoporosis
- Reduce effects of arthritis, especially in the hip/knee area
- Stabilize or lose body weight
- Reduce ADHD symptomatology in children
Whether you picnic in the park, take a leisurely scenic stroll, or are hot to trot to burn calories, Syrop prescribes care and caution when you are at one with the elements …
- Consider weather and heat factors; stay hydrated, avoid direct sun and wear sunscreen
- Be aware of uneven terrain; wear sensible shoes
- Combat imbalance with an appropriate assistive device, like a cane or wheelchair
- Trekking poles can benefit anyone — arm movement enhances the aerobic workout, burns calories, and improves balance, stability, and posture, even relieving back pain
Park It Right Here
There’s no shortage of parks and trails to reap the rewards of outdoor activity in Westchester. We compiled the following list of beautiful Westchester grounds for all ages and abilities.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve and Rockwood Preserve
- Peony blooms through second week of May
With more than 1,700 acres of rolling countryside donated by the Rockefeller Family, Rockefeller State Park Preserve is the perfect place to take in the majestic views of the Hudson River at Rockwood Hall or the flora and fauna in the Fern and Tree Peony Gardens.
“The Preserve trails are actually carriage roads,” explains Preserve Manager Peter Iskenderian. “They’re 16-feet wide and mainly flat, so they’re perfect for social distancing and people with disabilities.”
Beyond wide trails, picturesque landscapes and historical features, you’ll catch a glimpse of the adorable “grazing management plan,” says Iskenderian. Through a partnership with Stone Barns Center, Rockefeller Preserve uses farm animals instead of landscaping equipment to maintain the fields.
Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway
Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, a not-for-profit, leads guided walks and tours of Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park. The marathon-length trail stretches from Croton to the Bronx, and is known familiarly as the OCA. “We want to provide encouragement and guidance on where to go, but more importantly, to see people connect and make new friendships,” says OCA Education Specialist Laura Compagni.
Another benefit of the serpentine suburban trail is accessibility for residents. “The OCA is a very easy-to-use local park,” says Steven Oakes, OCA site manager. “Folks can enter at any one of numerous access points and thereby avoid parking lots, where social distancing can sometimes be difficult.”
While multiple access points throughout the trail make for an easy on-off, there are still many people who negotiate the full, rugged 26.2 miles (41 miles if continued to Manhattan) and earn their OCA recognition badge every year.
John Jay Homestead State Historic Site
- Farm Market Every Saturday, May-October
- Family Sensory Guided History Walks and Red Barn Visits — Reservation Required
Westchester offers no shortage of early educational recreational activities. Complete with sensory walks, interactive exhibits in their Red Barn, and even a milkable mechanical cow named Buttercup, the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, a 62-acre park in Bedford, offers explorational outdoor learning for young children. “It’s a great park to picnic and spend the day connecting with the history of one of our Founding Fathers,” suggests Site Director Heather Iannucci.
Greenburg Nature Center
- Back to Nature Series — Reservation Required
Focusing on education in the natural world through their “Back to Nature” series and goat walks through the woods, the 33-acre Greenburgh Nature Center (GNC) in Scarsdale is another outlet for little feet to explore the outdoor world. “Our continued mission at GNC is the focus of education in the natural world,” advises newly-named Executive Director Alix Dunn.
- More Resources
- Search “An Essential Guide to Enjoying National Parks”
Angela Bosco is a marketing director and freelance writer based in Briarcliff Manor.